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Asian Woman Is One of the Most Powerful Leaders In Black America

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Grace Lee Boggs is an Asian activist for Black America. www.naturallymoi.com

Grace Lee Boggs

Reported by April V. Taylor

A 90-minute documentary on PBS titled, “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” follows the 98-year-old Detroit activist and author who, as an activist, has been part of almost every major American movement in the last 75 years, including labor, civil rights, black power, women’s rights, and environmental justice.  While some would assume from her résumé and lists of accomplishments that she is a black woman, Boggs is actually the daughter of Chinese immigrants.

The new documentary chronicles Boggs’ journey from her upbringing in a middle class New York City family to her evolution as a Marxist radical who worked with C.L.R. James in the 1950s, her work with the Black Power movement in the 1960s, and her lifelong work to bring about cultural revolution that implores people to redefine their humanity.  The PBS summary of the film sums of Boggs’ work by stating, “In some ways, the radicalization of Grace Lee Boggs typifies an experience many people shared during America’s turbulent 20th century.  Yet she cut an extraordinary path through decades of struggle.  As Angela Davis, an icon of the 1960s black power movement, put is, ‘Grace has made more contributions to the black struggle than most black people have.’ ”

Filmmaker Grace Lee, a Korean-American, opened up about Boggs’ response to her questions about why she, as a Chinese American woman, was so involved with the black community and movements associated with African Americans.  Lee says Boggs responded to her questions by stating, “You keep asking me this question.  You’re stuck in this idea of all these categories.  I didn’t think of myself as Chinese because the Chinese American movement hadn’t emerged, and I didn’t think of myself as a woman because the women’s movement hadn’t emerged.”

The documentary includes commentary and archival footage of Bill Moyer, Ossie David, Ruby Dee, Boggs’ late husband James Boggs, Danny Glover, and many of her Detroit comrades.  The tale of Boggs’ journey as an author, protester, and community organizer is a story about what it means to be a true American revolutionary.  As the film’s director states, “This is not an issue film, nor is it about a celebrity or an urgent injustice that rallies you to take action.  It’s about an elderly woman who spends most of her days sitting in her living room thinking and hatching ideas about the next American revolution.  But if you catch wind of some of those ideas, they just might change the world.”

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