The last few months have been a time of reflection for many involved in social and economic justice work in Detroit, due to the passing of two extraordinary Motor City thinkers and activists: Grace Lee Boggs and Ron Scott.
Grace Lee Boggs, 1915-2015. Artwork by Eno Laget, stencil.
Grace Lee Boggs, 1915-2015
Boggs, a world-renowned philosopher, author and organizer, left this world on Oct. 5, several months after her 100th birthday. The respected activist is known for her work with Detroit Summer as well as her involvement with the labor, black power, civil rights and feminist movements.
She was born in Providence Rhode Island in 1915 to restaurant-owning Chinese immigrant father and a Chinese-American mother. Always a quick learner, Boggs graduated high school at 15 and won a scholarship to Barnard College (now Columbia University) where she majored in philosophy. By 25 years old, she had earned a PhD in the field.
After completing school, Boggs moved to Chicago, where she became involved in left-wing politics and the Black freedom struggle. Her interest in these issues caused her to join with a faction of the Marxist Workers’ Party called the Johnson-Forest Tendency, led by C. L. R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya. Later in her life she moved away from Marxism to embrace a philosophy called dialectical humanism.
In 1953, she moved to Detroit and soon became romantically involved with a radical African-American activist and auto worker named James Boggs, whom she eventually married. The two of them were deeply involved with the Civil Right and Black Power movements in the 1960s. They later founded Detroit Summer, a multicultural, intergenerational youth leadership program in the 1980s. For many years, she also wrote a weekly column for the Michigan Citizen newspaper, which ceased publication last year. Her former home is now the headquarters for the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership.
Boggs is the author of “Living for Change,” a biography, “Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century” (with her husband James Boggs), and “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century” (with Scott Kurashige), among other books.
Ron Scott, 1947-2015. Artwork by Shanna Morela and Curtis McGuire
Ron Scott, 1947-2015
In addition to being an extraordinary community organizer and gifted writer, media producer and interviewer, Scott was also a teacher who will be sorely missed by the generations of activists he mentored.
Although he was involved in many different kinds of social and economic justice work, he may be best remembered for his recent efforts with the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, an organization he helped found in 1996. Scott considered himself a “transformational anthropologist.” He passed away at 68 on Nov. 2, after a challenging struggle with cancer.
Scott was a Detroit native, grew up in the Jeffries Projects and graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“My political and social worldview was shaped by an astute single mother who eventually earned a degree and became a teacher, and by conservative as well as progressive teachers who angered, challenged and ultimately inspired me,” he said of himself in a biographical statement on his website.
Among other things, Scott was a co-founder of the Black Panther Party in Detroit; a political consultant to the late Mayor Coleman A. Young, Congressman John Conyers and H. Ross Perot; and an early producer of one of the longest-running African American-focused shows in the U.S., Detroit Public Television’s “Detroit Black Journal.”
He was also a member of the Boggs Center and a spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. Shortly before his death he published “Guide to Ending Police Brutality,” a book which is now available at boggscenter.org.
Originally printed in our 2016 Winter Issue.