A True American Revolutionary: Rest in Power, Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015)

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Grace Lee Boggs — revered civil rights activist and scholar and Asian American feminist hero — passed away this morning. She was 100.

Founder of the Boggs Center and co-founder of Detroit Summer, Boggs lived a life dedicated to activism and social justice, with her efforts focused in particular on inner city Detroit. However, her work extended far beyond Detroit’s city limits in terms of influence: she has inspired (among others) several generations of Asian American activists and feminists — including myself.

Boggs came-of-age with regard to her social justice activism in the 1940’s. Her early work on tenant’s rights exposed Boggs to the profound inequality faced by marginalized peoples in America, and this experience eventually inspired her to join the Workers Party, and to dedicate the remainder of her life to community activism, anti-capitalism, and the Black liberation movement. Boggs professed surprise in a PBS documentary (“American Revolutionary”) recorded last year about her life and activism that she was also considered an Asian American civil rights icon. Boggs had no reason to be modest: her unwavering activism defied the stereotype of Asian Americans (and in particular Asian American women) as soft-spoken and apolitical, and her scholarship challenged those who came after her to develop a truly intersectional race, gender and economic politic.

In particular, Boggs was a personal (s)he-ro for her unique philosophy on unceasing self-accountability, awareness, and personal growth. Above all else, Boggs was a teacher-activist, who focused on inspiring political growth through the pursuit of greater knowledge, awareness, and discussion. This philosophy of unrelenting self-education and self-evolution as a critical (yet too often underemphasized) component for revolution is the direct inspiration for my own activism, and for my continued maintenance of this blog.

Last year, news of Boggs failing health reached the blogosphere when friends and family revealed that she was in hospice care. They requested that the community contribute donations to the Boggs Center, which would go to helping offset Boggs’ medical bills. Yet, even from her hospital bed, Boggs selflessly urged concerned activists to support Boggs Center efforts, which in recent years has focused on ecologically sustainable community growth.

Earlier this year, Boggs celebrated her 100th birthday. Caretakers Shay Howell and Alice Jennings told Democracy Now! that this morning, “[Grace] left this life as she lived it: surrounded by books, politics, people and ideas.”

Boggs was a true American revolutionary, whose life inspired countless other social justice activists. Yet, she also recognized that even after a century of work, too much injustice still remains in the world. In writing about Martin Luther King, Jr’s, 75th birthday in 2004, Boggs wrote:

These are the times that try our souls. I cannot recall any previous period when the challenges have been so basic, so interconnected, and so demanding, not just to specific groups but to everyone living in this country, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, age, or national origin.

Today, we mourn the loss of a civil rights legend. In that remembrance, we must not forget the legacy of her work: we must remember that the injustices of this world are intersected, and we must never stop standing strong — shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies — against all iniquity and in pursuit of our vision of a better world.

Since I wrote about news of Boggs’ rising medical costs last year, I have been making a monthly $5 donation to the Boggs Center out of the advertising proceeds from this site. I plan to continue this monthly contribution in Grace Lee Boggs’ memory for as long as I am able to, and I encourage you to do the same by visiting BoggsCenter.org or clicking on this Paypal link.

Please read the #GraceLeeTaughtMe hashtag for beautiful tributes and reflections of Grace Lee Boggs’ life and legacy by AAPI activists and others.

You can also purchase a DVD copy of American Revolutionary, the incredible documentary about Grace Lee Boggs’ life. The documentary will also be available for free streaming until November 4th.

Read More: Activist, Civil Rights Icon Grace Lee Boggs Dies at 100 (NBC News)

Update (10/5/2015): The White House issued the following statement on Boggs’ death today.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 5, 2015

Statement by the President on the Passing of Grace Lee Boggs

Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of author, philosopher, and activist Grace Lee Boggs. Grace dedicated her life to serving and advocating for the rights of others – from her community activism in Detroit, to her leadership in the civil rights movement, to her ideas that challenged us all to lead meaningful lives. As the child of Chinese immigrants and as a woman, Grace learned early on that the world needed changing, and she overcame barriers to do just that. She understood the power of community organizing at its core – the importance of bringing about change and getting people involved to shape their own destiny. Grace’s passion for helping others, and her work to rejuvenate communities that had fallen on hard times spanned her remarkable 100 years of life, and will continue to inspire generations to come. Our thoughts and prayers are with Grace’s family and friends, and all those who loved her dearly.

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