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Grace Lee Boggs is MLK Symposium 2003 Keynote Speaker

MLK Symposium website >>

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


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