Assistant professor presents 'Ideas in Movement'

From left to right: Stephen Ward, Ph.D., assistant professor of Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan and Michael Doan, assistant professor of philosophy. 

Stephen Ward, Ph.D., assistant professor of Afro-American and African studies at the University of Michigan, presented his lecture “Ideas in Movement” on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at Halle Library.

Ward lectured on the 1967 Detroit Rebellion and how activists, James & Grace Lee Boggs, contributed to the revolutionary process. He has written two books on the Boggs; In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs and Pages From a Black Radical’s Notebook: A James Boggs Reader.

He said that the lecture can give students a new perspective.

“I see this as part of the broader opportunity to engage in various ideas and people to give them an expanded sense of how intellectual activity happens,” he said.

Ward discussed the role that ideas play in social movements, especially in Detroit before and after the 1967 Detroit Rebellion and the interconnecting ideas that James and Grace Lee Boggs developed over the course of their activism.

Ward compared two articles written in the first weeks after the rebellion in The Detroit News, one by James and Grace Lee Boggs and one by journalist, Louis Lomax, a very prominent African American journalist. In Lomax’s article, he explained why the rebellion happened, who was responsible and how to respond to those responsible.

Lomax’s journalistic integrity was called into question. He gave the idea that the rebellion was driven by radicals. He listed black activists who he felt were responsible, James and Grace Lee Boggs were listed.

In the Boggs’ article, “Birth of A Nation” they discussed the need for black activists and community members in the weeks after the rebellion. Religious leader Rev. Albert Cleage, created the Citywide Citizens Action Committee, to bring organization to the black community after the rebellion and build on the energies, political ideas and goals that already existed in the movement and before the rebellion.

James and Grace Lee Boggs shared a four-decade partnership which was marital, political and intellectual. When they first married in 1953, they both committed themselves to being revolutionary. They were both involved in the Correspondence Publishing Committee under the leadership of C.C.R. James where they created a monthly publication called Correspondence which was based on the idea that ordinary people can change the world. They wanted the publication to be a space for them to articulate their views and ideas.

They saw the black power movement as having the power to not just change black people’s place in society but change American society.

The Boggs were also very instrumental in organizing the Northern Negro Grassroots Leadership Conference at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit where civil rights activist Malcolm X gave his very prominent speech “Message to The Grassroots.” In the speech, he gave a distinction between the black revolution and the negro revolution. He said that the black revolution that took place in Africa involved land and was bloodshed and violent.

In America’s Negro movement, advocates think they can have a nonviolent revolution. He also gave the distinction between the house negro and field negro, the march on Washington, and creating the all- black political party, the Freedom Now Party, which James and Grace were successful in getting on the ballot in 1964. The party conducted a state-wide campaign and put forth the need for independent black political power. They also wrote about the conference in their Correspondence publication.

Other organizations that the Boggs founded were The Organization for Black Power in 1965 and the Inner City Organizing Committee with Rev. Albert Cleage. Their legacy inspired the creation of the James and Grace Boggs Center in Detroit whose mission is to nurture the transformational leadership capacities of individuals and create productive, sustainable, ecologically responsible and just communities.

Rachel Burns, senior majoring in history, said the lecture helped her view historical events in a new way.

“I thought he covered an angle of history I never considered, from an angle of labor and capitalism. I was surprised that they were able to make a change and based their political ideologies on theory, books, and personal experiences,” she said. “He dove into a period that is not really mainstream.

Payton Alexandre, a former Wayne State University student who studied documentary film studies, heard about the lecture on Facebook. He said that the lecture helped him discover information that is not often discussed.

“It was nice to see a sharp and precise exploration into Boggs, you don’t hear of that often. You don’t usually hear about the fine details,” he said. “I was surprised that the turnout was so big and the diversity.”

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