Grace Lee Boggs

social activist and feminist (1915-2015)

Grace Lee Boggs (June 27, 1915 – October 5, 2015) was an American author, social activist, philosopher and feminist

Grace Lee Boggs in 2012


  • I’ve come to believe 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.
  • One of the difficulties when you’re coming out of oppression is that you get a concept of the messiah. You have to get to that point that we are the leaders we’ve been looking for. We are the children of Martin and Malcolm. I don’t know what the next American revolution is going to be like, but we might be able to imagine it, if your imagination were rich enough.
    • "how would you describe where we stand now?"
  • We wanted to become part of the people who took responsibility for the country.
  • I became so active in the black power movement that FBI records of that time say that I was probably Afro-Chinese.
  • People thought of revolution chiefly in terms of taking state power. But we’ve had revolutions, and we’ve seen how the states which they have created have turned out to be like replicas of the states which they opposed. You have to bring those two words together and recognize that we are responsible for the evolution of the human species. It’s a question of two-sided transformation and not just the oppressed versus the oppressor. We have to change ourselves in order to change the world.
  • Let me make a challenge to you, OK? With people of color becoming the new American majority in many parts of the country, how are we going to create a new vision for this country, a vision of a new kind of human being, which is what is demanded at this moment? So that’s your challenge.
  • when you look out and all you see is vacant lots, when all you see is devastation, when all you see—do you look at it as a curse, or do you look at it as a possibility, as having potential? And we here in Detroit had to begin doing that for our own humanity.
  • when you have been very active all your life, and suddenly you’re very restricted and don’t have much mobility, it’s tough. And it’s tough when you’ve been married for 40 years to be living alone.
  • They need to know that a revolution is to advance their humanity and to advance the humanity of the human race. They need to know that a revolution is to create solutions and not to get angry at the people. They need to know that a revolution is not just protests, it’s not just anger, it’s not just a search for power. It’s a search for real problems for how to be a human being. And I think that’s what’s unique about the American revolution, and that’s what’s unique about this country, because even though there is a lot of poverty, there’s a lot of inequality, there’s a lot of physical hardships, I think the most profound hardship of the American people is that they want to change, they want to change themselves, they want to change this world, and they don’t know how to do it. And revolution is the way to do it, but not the old kind of revolution. So, I think, in that sense, the reason that people are responding so positively is that to see the film does meet a need, a very profound need. I mean, this country is in such deep trouble spiritually, in every human sense. It’s not just the finances. It’s not just the joblessness. It’s—I believe in a kind of American exceptionalism, that whereas in other countries you face the material hardships first and they become central, in the United States it’s something that’s a hunger that’s much deeper, that we have to find our souls.

Quotes about Grace Lee Boggs

  • the question, which is actually from one of my teachers, Grace Lee Boggs, that she would always ask when we showed up to sit down and talk with her is, What time is it on the clock of the world? And I like this question. It always makes me kind of deconstruct time, when I’m like, oh, we’re in these looping patterns, actually. And we’re in a pattern that feels familiar in these ways and new in these other ways.
  • Throughout this book, Martínez reminds readers again and again of why we should balance the wisdom of experience with the fire of youth and honor both perspectives. So many great leaders have boldly embodied this ethic, from the recently departed such as Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee Boggs, and Cedric Robinson, to those who carry on like Jamala Rogers, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and Betita Martinez herself.
  • Grace has made more contributions to the black struggle than most black people have.
  • Grace’s legacy for us who are left here really is to consider that for each of us, we have our own responsibility to transform ourselves. As a transformative leader, it wasn’t that Grace wanted us to do as Grace did, but rather to explore ourselves to see what we could do to be better human beings, to stretch our own humanity, and to be involved in the social justice issues of our day.
  • Grace Boggs is the inspiration, in many ways, for Freedom Dreams. You know, we go back to like 1992, and she started this debate with me about, you know, you need to read Dr. King, you need to pay attention to people’s needs beyond protest. Like, how do you build the society we’re trying to establish in time, in the present, as opposed to just continuing to fight for reform? And so, we had this ongoing debate, and she forced me to rethink some things. Even after Freedom Dreams came out, she had more critiques, of course. And so, I end the book with an epilogue that has a very substantial section on what is being built in Detroit right now as a result of the Boggs Center and the work that Grace and Jimmy Boggs did. And so, that’s a really important part of the story, saying that freedom dreamers are basically building that society of creating new human beings, new ways of being together that don’t fall into the same old trap of, you know, the Marxist seizing state power.
  • When we think about Grace in the 20 century, she is very much an outsider. In the 21st century, she represents the uniting of people from different races and different backgrounds, in a way that is now defining America.
  • there’s this new era of social justice movement about, “Yeah, we’re going to organize in the streets.” And let me tell you, I mean, I grew up hearing people like Grace Lee Boggs and all, everybody, that said, “Don’t wait for somebody to introduce things in the halls of Congress or wait ’til the White House wakes up. We transform our country by movement work outside of the halls of Congress and in the White House.” And so, believe in that, because that’s exactly what we’ve done.
  • by 1966, '67, she's well known particularly in Detroit circles, but also nationally, as a black power figure.
  • A massive rebirth is needed right now for much of the industrialized world-one that will justly transition us beyond the extractive dominance of fossil fuels and into a new way of being. Over the past few years I've found myself rereading the manifesto that Grace Lee Boggs and other women leaders wrote in 2005 that proclaimed, "Another world is necessary, another world is possible, another world has already started." In it they declare, "This universal crisis is not only a danger but a promise, an opportunity to advance ourselves and our societies to a new level, based on a new vision, new principles and values." With each new pipeline approved, with each new gas permit granted, world leaders show that they are not ready for this rebirth. But the Earth knows what's necessary and is continuing to send shock signals that we cannot keep on postponing this transition. How do we keep on rolling this rebirth along, even despite all that is politically, economically, environmentally against us?
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