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Celebrate People’s History 5: Grace Lee & Jimmy Boggs

July 18, 2012

Bec Young designed the Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs poster back in 2008. This is what she wrote about it back then:

I first became interested in moving to Detroit when, living in Ann Arbor, I read some grad students’ thesis paper about urban agriculture in Detroit, as I copied it for him super s-l-o-w-l-y at my copy shop job near the campus of U of M. After that I began to look for books about the city, and Detroit: I Do Mind Dying quickly made it to the top my reading list. Within the book, the names Jimmy Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs stuck out in my mind, and pretty soon after I moved to the city in the summer of 2000 I began volunteering for Detroit Summer, “a youth program / movement to re-build, re-spirit and re-define Detroit from the ground up;” Jimmy and Grace were among the founders of the organization. I continued to learn about them and their ideas, reading almost all their other books during the last nine years I’ve spent in Detroit.
In The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook, Jimmy, an auto factory worker, lays out what has turned out to be a prophetic vision of labor. He explains that with the advent of automation, there will be less work as we know it, and that many people will be unemployed, and suggests that in this technologically advanced society “productivity can no longer be the measure of an individual’s right to life.” This book was published in 1963. In chapter 4, “The Outsiders,” he asserts that our definition of work will need to change from production of goods to the mental work of re-organizing society: “The revolution which is within these people will have to be a revolution of their minds and hearts…”

Another book, Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, came out in 1974. It consists of Grace and Jimmy’s analysis of revolutions that happened all over the world, as well as ideas of how revolution might happen in the U.S. Conversations in Maine was published in 1978, and summarizes discussions that took place during ten years of retreats about politics and revolution. Grace published Living for Change: an Autobiography in 1998, which explains the development of her political sensibilities.

Jimmy died in 1993, but Grace still lives at The Boggs Center, the community center they established in part of their house on the East side of Detroit. At almost 94 years old, Grace is still quite active and writes a column weekly for the Michigan Citizen, “America’s Most Progressive Community Newspaper.” What impresses me most about Grace is how flexible she is in her thinking. She is very open to new ideas and ways of doing things, and is very creative in her perspective about everything she theorizes about. That includes just about everything, but recently she often focuses on schools and the economy. I am grateful to have been able to show the poster to Grace for feedback before printing, and to hand the finished copies to her afterward. In what was one of the most rewarding moments so far of my art-making life, she looked at it and said simply “I love it!”

The above images are from Bec’s original paper cut image used to create the poster. Bec is a Justseeds artist, all her work can be seen HERE. She also co-edited the fabulous book Firebrands:Portraits from the Americas, which can be found HERE. The Boggs poster can be purchased for only $4 right HERE! You can check out all the Celebrate People’s History posters HERE.

Anti-capitalismCulture & MediaEnvironment & ClimateFeminisms & GenderHistoryLaborRacial JusticeSocial Movements

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