“Leave her on the hillside to die, she’s only a girl,” the waiters at her father’s restaurant would taunt anytime she cried as a child.
Civil rights activist and feminist Grace Lee Boggs recalled these incidents in an interview with Democracy Now, citing them as the first time she realized the world was different for girls and boys. Looking back, she mused that it may have been in jest but, nevertheless, it was these careless statements that made her realize the world needed change.
Born in New York in 1915 to Chinese immigrants, Boggs' life spanned a century before she passed away yesterday at age 100. Boggs was an excellent student, graduating from Barnard College in 1935 and earning a doctorate in philosophy 5 years later from Bryn Mawr. Though Boggs was a PhD, she couldn’t get a job better than working in a philosophy library in Chicago for ten dollars a week.
It wasn’t enough to rent a room, but a kindly old lady let her stay in her basement for free. Generous as the offer was, the basement was infested with rats. These rodents pushed Boggs to join a committee of tenants against unlivable conditions. Her experience with these tenant associations brought her in contact with the black civil rights movement, and when she saw the headway that this group was able to make in securing defense jobs for black workers, she really started to believe in the power of a movement. It was an inspiration she would carry with her for the next sixty years as she championed a diverse array of causes.
During her 100 years, she pushed for an evolution of society through small and profound movements. Detroit was her home but the world was her consideration. She authored several books, including The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century and Living for Change. To learn more about this incredible woman, watch the award winning PBS documentary, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, which chronicles her growth as an activist and a person. Trustee of the Boggs Foundation Alice Jennings said of her friend's passing that she "died as she lived surrounded by books, politics, people and ideas."
Images via: graceleeboggs100.org, boggscenter.org
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