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Americans Who Tell the Truth :: Grace Lee Boggs

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Robert Shetterly's portrait of Grace Lee Boggs
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“People are aware that they cannot continue in the same old way but are immobilized because they cannot imagine an alternative. We need a vision that recognizes that we are at one of the great turning points in human history when the survival of our planet and the restoration of our humanity require a great sea change in our ecological, economic, political, and spiritual values.”
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Grace Lee Boggs
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Activist, Community leader, Author (1915— )

A prominent activist her entire adult life, Grace Lee was born in Rhode Island in 1915, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She studied at Barnard College and Bryn Mawr, receiving her Ph.D. in 1940. Her studies in philosophy and the writings of Marx, Hegel, and Mead led not to a life in academia teaching others to question themselves and those in power, but rather to a lifetime of social activism and collaboration with others.

For Lee, it began in Chicago, where she joined the movement for tenants' rights, and then the Workers Party, a splinter group of the Socialist Workers Party. In these associations, as well as in her involvement with the 1941 March on Washington, Lee found her niche as an activist in the African-American community, focusing specifically on marginalized groups such as women and people of color. In 1953, Lee married black auto worker and activist James Boggs and moved to Detroit, where she remains an activist today, writing columns for the Michigan Citizen. James died in 1993.

Grace Lee Boggs embraces a philosophy of constant questioning – not just of who we are as individuals, but of how we relate to those in our community and country, to those in other countries, and to the local and global environment. Boggs has rejected the idea of the stereotypical radical as one who only views capitalist society as something to be done away with, believing more that “you cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.” It is in smaller groups, working together, that positive social change can happen, rather than in larger revolutions where one group of power simply changes position with another. That is why, in 1992, she and her husband founded Detroit Summer, a community movement bringing people of all races, cultures, and ages together to rebuild Detroit - a city Boggs has described as “a symbol of the end of industrial society…buildings that were once architectural marvels, like the Book Cadillac hotel and Union Station, lie in ruins…and in most neighborhoods people live behind triple-locked doors and barred windows.” Working literally from the ground up, Detroit Summer's activities include planting community gardens in vacant lots, creating huge murals on buildings, and renovating houses. There is a Center set up in honor of Grace Lee and James Boggs, www.boggscenter.org, which fosters their ideas and encourages independent thinking and leadership. You can read several of her speeches and columns on its website.

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See the full set of Robert Shetterly's portraits at www.americanswhotellthetruth.org.

Tools for Teaching: see the acompanying curriculum materials with suggestions on how to use the portraits and biographies of these American truth-tellers in your classroom.
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Seven Great Ideas for Movement Builders : :

The beloved community of Martin Luther King : :

Journey To a New America

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Americans Who Tell the Truth ::

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