She would later relocate to Detroit to edit the radical newsletter Correspondence and it is there that she would meet her husband, James “Jimmy” Boggs—a Black man who would become her partner in thought, activism, and life. The couple would become two of the city's best known activists and would later coauthor a book called Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century. They were heavily involved in organizing on behalf of racial justice as early members of Detroit’s Black Power movement, as well as pushing for a radical transformation of America’s economic systems. Their activities coincided with the McCarthy Era when those engaged in activist endeavors thought to be at odds with capitalism were blacklisted, purged from various institutions, and sometimes incarcerated. As a result of their activities, the couple would become known to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) as radical agitators. At the time, Black-Asian solidarity and coalition building were so absent from the public stage that when Grace was identified as a leader within Detroit’s Black Power movement, FBI authorities wrongly assumed that she must be of both African and Asian descent.
Another core theme that emerges in this documentary is Boggs’ love of rigorous thought and deliberation. In contrast to some of her long-time collaborators, Boggs insisted that our enduring social and political challenges call not only for activism but for deliberative reflection. Though this emphasis on thought before action appears to have put her at odds with some of her collaborators on the ground, this was a way of seeing and operating that Boggs also tried to inculcate in the young people she taught and mentored during her life.
Boggs was a strong believer in the power of young people to transform their environments, as well as the importance of rising to support them in that process. In 1992, the couple would help to establish Detroit Summer, an organization inspired by Fannie Lou Hamer’s Freedom Summer, with an emphasis on rebuilding the city of Detroit. Still an active organization, Detroit Summer is a multi-racial, inter-generational collective. Its members say that they are “working to transform ourselves and our communities by confronting the problems we face with creativity and critical thinking. We currently organize youth-led media arts projects and community-wide potlucks, speak-outs and parties.” Two years after James’ passing in 1993, the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership was formed to honor the legacies of both James and Grace as activists and theoreticians.
In the film, Boggs also indicated that despite her array of public contributions, she didn’t regard herself as a leader within the Asian American movement. She said: “People began asking me to speak on the Asian American movement and I discovered my ignorance. People are so [eager to identify] icons that they sort of fixated on me even though I wasn’t an Asian American icon.”
Despite Boggs’ insistence that she wasn’t an Asian American icon, it is certainly the case that she is among the figures who have expanded the ways that Asian American women can show up in political organizing and ally with Black people. Though Boggs is certainly not the only Asian American person who has worked in close solidarity with African Americans, Boggs’ life is a powerful example of the social change work that can emerge when people realize that their fates are conjoined and take aligned action.