Photo from the Boggs Center
Chinese American, Cultural Theory, Philosophy, Activism
Grace Lee Boggs
Dr. Grace Lee Boggs was a community builder, activist, and philosopher, whose actions and writings have been widely influential for organizers, academics, and artists invested in work and forging practices that transform society.
Grace Chin Lee was given the name Yu Ping (Jade Peace) at birth. The daughter of Chinese immigrant parents Chin Lee and Yin Lan Ng, she was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1915. Boggs earned a BA in Philosophy from Barnard College (1935) and a PhD in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College (1940). Despite being more than prepared for the rigors of academia, as a Chinese American woman, she faced insurmountable barriers in the workforce and in that process, became aware not only of the range of inequities she faced but also those systemically forced upon the Black community. This watershed experience shaped her worldview and began her activist journey.
Lee credited her mother as her early feminist role model. Her activism deepened in Chicago in the early 1940s where she supported the movement for tenants’ rights. She was also involved in planning the proposed 1941 March on Washington organized by A. Phillip Randolph. Lee was drawn to socialism and labor organizing, like many intellectuals of her day, and was an active member of the Workers Party, along with comrades like Trinidadian social theorist C. L. R. James.
After moving to Detroit to organize among factory workers, she met and married James Boggs, an autoworker and political organizer. Committed to revolutionary change, the two were active participants in civil and labor rights organizing in Detroit for four decades. The couple enacted a liberatory change worldview that they shared in initiatives like Detroit Summer, a multiracial, pluricultural, and intergenerational movement that they founded in 1992 to support the rebuilding of Detroit from the ground up. Boggs promoted activism with deliberative reflection and asserted that people had the power to change themselves and their environments collaboratively because their fates were conjoined and they could take aligned action.
After James Boggs’ death in 1993, Boggs continued her movement work well into her 90s. In 1995, friends started the Grace Lee and James Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership and in 2014, one of Detroit Summer’s first youth volunteers, opened the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, a charter school founded on the couple’s philosophy. Grace Lee Boggs continues to inspire youth, activists and organizers to understand this tradition of liberatory, cross-cultural and multi-racial movement building.
Her books include:
With James Boggs. Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century (1974)
With James Boggs, Freddy Paine, and Lyman Paine. Conversations in Maine: Exploring Our Nation’s Future (1978)
Living for Change: An Autobiography (1998)