Grace Lee Boggs, an American Revolutionary, Dies

Written by Noel Holston

Grace Lee Boggs, an Asian-American philosopher, writer and political activist who was the subject of 2014 Peabody-winning POV documentary, American Revolutionary, died Monday in her Detroit home. She was 100 years old.

Though not as well known as Rosa Parks or John Lewis, Boggs was once described by Angela Davis as having made “more contributions to the black struggle than most black people have.”

Born in 1915 in an apartment above her father’s Chinese restaurant in Providence, R.I., Grace Lee grew up in New York City. A precocious child, she entered Barnard College at 16 and graduated in 1935 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. She went on to get a doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1940.

Her deep involvement in civil rights and black-power politics began in earnest after she met her African-American husband-to-be, James Boggs, while she was writing for a Detroit newspaper. They helped Dr. Martin Luther King orchestrate marches and provided Malcolm X with a place to stay when he visited Detroit.

Their later work focused on improving the Motor City’s poorer neighborhoods and included starting Detroit Summer, a program for young people to work on community projects.

The POV documentary was subtitled The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.

Produced by the similarly named filmmaker Grace Lee, it blended archival photos and news footage that depicted Boggs as a fiery young organizer and theorist with fresh video of her, a mellowed but still curious and challenging nonagenarian, in the living room of her modest Detroit home. At the time, she was still involved in Detroit’s urban garden movement.

President Obama paid tribute to her Monday, saying in a statement that Boggs learned early that “the world needed changing, and she overcame barriers to do just that.”

PBS is streaming the entire documentary through November 3.

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