Grace Lee Boggs is MLK Symposium 2003 Keynote Speaker
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Grace Lee Boggs, an activist, writer and speaker whose 60 years of political
involvement encompass the major U.S. social movements of the last century,
has been named the keynote speaker for a January celebration in honor
of Martin Luther King Jr.
Boggs will share her experiences and anecdotes from her career in progressive
activism and her insight into King and the civil rights movement. She
also will discuss the role of the community, particularly students, in
keeping the spirit of King’s efforts alive. The speech is scheduled
for 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 20, in Rackham Auditorium.
A daughter of Chinese immigrants, Boggs was born in 1915 in Providence,
R.I. Boggs received her B.A. from Barnard College in l935 and her Ph.D.
in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in l940.
With race- and gender-based discrimination precluding an easy transition
to an academic career, she dedicated herself to a lifetime of movement
activism. Her prodigious writing has been the product of organic intellectual
work driven by her political engagement.
In l953 she came to Detroit where she married James Boggs, a labor activist,
writer and strategist. Working together in grassroots groups and projects,
they were partners for more than 40 years until James Boggs’ death
in l993. Monthly Review Press published their book, “Revolution
and Evolution in the Twentieth Century,” in l974. Transforming common
conceptions of what it means to think and act radically, it has been read
and discussed by thousands of theorists and activists from diverse backgrounds.
For Boggs, the celebration of King’s birthday provides a “wonderful
opportunity for concerned citizens—regardless of age, race, class
or gender—to revisit King’s writings and speeches and discover
their enormous power for movement building.” Building upon King’s
ideas about philosophy and politics, Boggs argues that “radical
social change must be viewed as a two-sided transformational process,
of ourselves and of our institutions, a process requiring protracted struggle
and not just a D-Day replacement of one set of rulers with another.”
In l992, with her husband and others, she founded Detroit Summer, a multicultural,
intergenerational youth program to rebuild, redefine and reinvigorate
Detroit from the ground up. Through Detroit Summer, Boggs has worked to
realize King’s vision that self-transforming/structure-transforming
actions must engage young people in what he called “our dying cities.”
Boggs, who throughout the years has attended and participated in numerous
events on the U-M campus, says, “I am proud of the activism of students
at the University of Michigan.”
Approaching her 88th birthday, Boggs remains active in numerous local
and community organizations. She also spreads her ideas by writing a weekly
column in the Michigan Citizen. The University of Minnesota Press in March
l998 published her autobiography, “Living for Change.” Now
in its second printing, it is widely used in university classes on social
movements, ethnic studies and Detroit history. Prof. Robin D.G. Kelley
of New York University, formerly a U-M faculty member, says, “‘Living
for Change’ might be the most important political memoir of the
second half of the 20th century.”
Among numerous honors, Boggs has received the Distinguished Alumna Award
from Barnard College; the Chinese American Pioneers Award from the Organization
of Chinese Americans; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anti-Defamation
League. A plaque in her honor is displayed at the National Women's Hall
of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Over the years, she has worked with activists
such as King, Malcolm X, Ossie Davis, Cornel West, former Detroit Mayor
Coleman Young, and actors Edward James Olmos and Danny Glover. All but
King and Malcolm X have been speakers of previous MLK
Day Symposium programs at Michigan.
For more information, contact the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives,
(734) 936-1055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.