Grace Lee Boggs, 98, is a Chinese American philosopher, writer and activist in Detroit with a thick FBI file and a surprising vision of what an American revolution can be. Rooted in 75 years of the labor, civil rights and Black Power movements, she continually challenges a new generation to throw off old assumptions, think creatively and redefine revolution for our times.
Boggs is the subject of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, which has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, June 30, 2014 on the POV (Point of View) series on PBS. (Check local listings). The film will stream on POV’s website, www.pbs.org/pov/americanrevolutionary/, from July 1-30.
Director Grace Lee (no relation to Grace Lee Boggs) met the older woman through her earlier documentary, The Grace Lee Project, about the shared name of many Asian American women and the stereotypes associated with it. She always knew she’d make a film about the sprightly activist who can gaze at a crumbling relic of a once-thriving auto plant and say, “I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit.”
Grace Lee Boggs was born on June 27, 1915 in Providence, R.I. and grew up in New York City. She received her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College (1935) and her Ph.D. in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College (1940). Discovering that many jobs weren’t available to “Orientals,” she found a job at the University of Chicago’s philosophy library and began organizing residents of the South Side for better housing. She developed a 20-year political relationship with black historian/essayist C.L.R. James, followed by extensive civil rights and Black Power Movement activism in Detroit in partnership with her husband, black autoworker James Boggs (1919-1993). As revealed in American Revolutionary, the 1967 Detroit riots were watershed events for the couple.