Grace Lee Boggs

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Grace Lee Boggs
Grace Lee Boggs 2012.jpg
Boggs at her home in Detroit in 2012
Born Grace Chin Lee [1][2]
(1915-06-27)June 27, 1915
Providence, Rhode Island
Died October 5, 2015(2015-10-05) (aged 100)
Detroit, Michigan
Residence Detroit, Michigan
Alma mater Barnard College (B.A., 1935)
Bryn Mawr College (Ph.D., 1940)
Occupation Writer, social activist, philosopher, and feminist
Spouse(s) James Boggs (1953–1993, his death) [1]
Parent(s) Chin Lee (father; b.1870; d.1965)
Yin Lan Lee (mother; b.1890; d.1978) [3][4]
Relatives Katherine (sister)
Edward (brother; b.1920)
Philip (brother)
Robert (brother)
Harry (brother; b.1918) [4]

Grace Lee Boggs (June 27, 1915 – October 5, 2015) was an American author, social activist, philosopher and feminist.[5] She is known for her years of political collaboration with C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya in the 1940s and 1950s.[6] She eventually went off in her own political direction in the 1960s with her husband of some forty years, James Boggs, until his death in 1993.[7] By 1998, she had written four books, including an autobiography. In 2011, still active at the age of 95, she wrote a fifth book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, co-written by Scott Kurashige and published by the University of California Press.

Early life and education[edit]

Lee was born in Providence, Rhode Island above her father's restaurant on June 27, 1915. She is the daughter of Chin Lee, a restaurant owner originally from Toishan in China born in 1870.[4] Her Chinese given name is Yuk Ping (玉平), meaning "Jade Peace." Her mother, Yin Lan Lee, her father's second wife, acted as an early feminist role model. She grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. Her father owned restaurants in New York City.[4] Her mother was born in the Ng family and was very poor as well. They were so poor that her uncle sold her mother as a slave, but she was able to get away. Her mother was married to her father in an arranged marriage that was also arranged by her uncle. She was unable to give birth to sons and so her father left her mother for a younger woman.[8]

Her father migrated to the United States with his second wife after the British defeated China in the First Opium War of 1839–1842. After the war, the country suffered socioeconomically, due to indemnities the Chinese government was forced to pay. This tax was then forced on to the poor farmers of the country. They were unable to afford this tax levied upon them and decided to leave.[9] Boggs went on to study at Barnard College on a scholarship and graduated in 1935 where she was influenced by Kant and especially Hegel. She received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1940 where she wrote her dissertation.


Facing significant barriers in the academic world in the 1940s, she took a job at low wages at the University of Chicago Philosophy Library. As a result of their activism on tenants' rights, she joined the far left Workers Party, known for its Third Camp position regarding the Soviet Union which it saw as bureaucratic collectivist. At this point, she began the trajectory that she would follow for the rest of her life: a focus on struggles in the African-American community.[10]

She met C.L.R. James during a speaking engagement in Chicago and moved to New York. She met many activists and cultural figures such as Richard Wright and Katharine Dunham. She also translated into English many of the essays in Karl Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 for the first time. She soon joined the Johnson-Forest tendency led by James, Raya Dunayevskaya and Lee. They focused more centrally on marginalized groups such as women, people of color and youth as well as breaking with the notion of the vanguard party. While originally operating as a tendency of the Workers Party, they briefly rejoined the Socialist Workers Party before leaving the Trotskyist left entirely. The Johnson-Forest tendency also characterized the USSR as State Capitalist. She wrote for the Johnson-Forest tendency under the party pseudonym Ria Stone. She married African American auto worker and political activist James Boggs in 1953 with whom she politically collaborated for decades and moved to Detroit in the same year. Detroit would be the focus of her activism for the rest of her life.

When C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya split in the mid-1950s into Correspondence Publishing Committee led by James and News and Letters led by Dunayevskaya, Grace and James supported Correspondence Publishing Committee that James tried to advise while in exile in Britain. In 1962 the Boggses broke with James and continued Correspondence Publishing Committee along with Lyman Paine and Freddy Paine, while James' supporters, such as Martin Glaberman, continued on as a new if short-lived organization, Facing Reality. The ideas that formed the basis for the 1962 split can be seen as reflected in James' book, The American Revolution: Pages from a Black Worker's Notebook. Grace unsuccessfully attempted to convince Malcolm X to run for the United States Senate in 1964. In these years, Boggs wrote a number of books, including Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century with her husband and focused on community activism in Detroit where she became a widely known activist.

She founded Detroit Summer, a multicultural intergenerational youth program, in 1992 and has also been the recipient of numerous awards. Additionally, Boggs’ home in Detroit also serves as headquarters for the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. The Boggs Center was founded in the early 1990s by friends of Grace Lee and James Boggs and continues to be a hub for community-based projects, grassroots organizing, and social activism both locally and nationally. [11] As recently as 2005, she continued to write a column for the Michigan Citizen newspaper. Her life is the subject of the documentary film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs released in 2013, produced and directed by the American filmmaker Grace Lee.[12] In 2014, The Social Justice Hub at The New School's newly opened University Center was named the Baldwin Rivera Boggs Center after activists James Baldwin, Sylvia Rivera, and Grace Lee Boggs.

She turned 100 in June 2015.[13] She died four months later on October 5, 2015.


  • George Herbert Mead: Philosopher of the Social Individual (New York : King's Crown Press, 1945)
  • Facing Reality (with C.L.R. James and Cornelius Castoriadis). (Detroit: Correspondence, 1958).
  • Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century. (with James Boggs). (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974).
  • Women and the Movement to Build a New America (Detroit: National Organization for an American Revolution, 1977).
  • Conversations in Maine: Exploring Our Nation's Future (with James Boggs, Freddy Paine and Lyman Paine). (Boston: South End Press, 1978).
  • Living for Change: An Autobiography (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).
  • The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century (with Scott Kurashige). (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011).


  1. ^ a b Ward, Stephen M. (editor), Pages from a Black Radical's Notebook: A James Boggs Reader, Wayne State University Press, 2011
  2. ^ Cf. Library of Congress catalog entry for Lee, Grace Chin. George Herbert Mead, New York, King's crown press, 1945.
  3. ^ Cooper, Desiree, "Activist Boggs learned from mom's regrets", Detroit Free Press, March 9, 2006
  4. ^ a b c d Cf. Boggs, Grace Lee, Living for Change: An Autobiography (1998)
  5. ^ Michael Jackman (Oct 5, 2015). "Grace Lee Boggs dead at 100". Metro Times. Retrieved 2015-10-05. 
  6. ^ Aguirre Jr., Adalberto; Lio, Shoon (2008). "Spaces of Mobilization: The Asian American/Pacific Islander Struggle for Social Justice". Social Justice. Asian American & Pacific Islander Population Struggles for Social Justice 35 (2): 5. 
  7. ^ "Untold Tales, Unsung Heroes: An Oral History of Detroit's African American Community 1918–1967", Wayne State University Press, p. 156, Elaine Latzman Moon. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  8. ^ Boggs, Grace Lee. Living for Change: An Autobiography. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota. p. 3. ISBN 0-8166-2954-4. 
  9. ^ Boggs, Grace Lee. Living for Change: An Autobiography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-8166-2954-4. 
  10. ^ Gay, ed., Kathlyn (2013). American Dissidents: An Encyclopedia of Activists, Subversives, and Prisoners of Conscience, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 71–73. ISBN 9781598847642. 
  11. ^ "Grace Lee Boggs – A Century in the World". On Being with Krista Tippett. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  12. ^ American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,
  13. ^ Chow, Kat (2015-06-27). "Grace Lee Boggs, Activist And American Revolutionary, Turns 100". NPR. Retrieved 2015-06-29. 

Further reading[edit]

  • "PBS Profile: Detroit 'Revolutionary' Grace Lee Boggs, 98", Deadline Detroit media, June 30th, 2014.
  • Paul Buhle, "An Asian-American Tale" Monthly Review (January 1999), pp. 47–50.
  • Grace Lee Boggs, Living for Change: An Autobiography (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).
  • Martin Glaberman, "The Revolutionary Optimist: Remembering C.L.R. James", Against the Current #72 (January/February 1998)
  • Neil Fettes, "Living for Change" Red & Black Notes, #7, Winter 1999


External video
Grace Lee Boggs interviewed on Democracy Now!, January 20, 2008
Grace Lee Boggs interviewed by Bill Moyers, June 15, 2007
Boggs on the Financial Meltdown and Social Change – video report by Democracy Now!
"The Only Way to Survive is By Taking Care of One Another" – video report by Democracy Now!

External links[edit]