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MLK Day in John Deere Country

By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to the Michigan Citizen

I flew to Iowa to speak at Grinnell College on MLK Day. The weather was several degrees below freezing but the reception was warm.

I was scheduled to speak Monday at 4:15 pm. At 4 o’clock, people from the community began streaming into the chapel-like auditorium: mostly white women, their eyes shining with anticipation.

On each chair, Shea Howell, also a contributor to the Michigan Citizen, had placed two Boggs Center brochures: “Re-Imagining Revolution” and “Self-Evident Truths.” Detroit community activist Doc Holbrook had set up a literature table. (We sold out copies of “The Next American Revolution”).

When classes ended, community members were joined by hundreds of students, so many that they filled the balcony and additional stacks of chairs had to be brought in for the overflow.

I spoke from notes I made following President Obama’s inaugural address. MLK Day, I said, has become our only national holiday that is a time for looking in the mirror instead of using pageantry, fireworks, barbecue, football and shopping to evade reflection.

I recalled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s l967 “Time to break the silence” speech in which he called for a radical revolution of values not only against racism, but against materialism and militarism.

At this time on the clock of the world, I said, we are suffering from the militarism of our country not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but on the streets of our cities and even in small towns like Newtown, Conn.

All over the world the center is not holding; things are falling apart. People are hungry for a new dream. The overthrow of dictators has not provided this dream and it is not coming from Congress or the White House.

But I feel very fortunate that I come from Detroit, where I have lived for 60 years, most of that time in the same house. When I moved to Detroit in 1953, it was still the national and international symbol of the miracles of industrialization. Then, as a result of Hi-Tech and globalization, it became the national and international symbol of the devastation of de-industrialization.

But now, as a result of urban agriculture, which is bringing the country back into the city, and our re-imaging work and education, we are becoming the national/international symbol of a new post-industrial society.

We are making a cultural revolution that can address the hunger of people in this country and all over the world for a new dream. We are re-imagining work. We are re-imagining education. We are creating community.

Thirty years ago, I co-authored, with John Gruchala and Ilaseo Lewis, the following poem:


“We are the children of Martin and Malcolm

Black, white, brown and yellow,

Our right and duty

To shake the world with a new dream.”

This new dream is what is urgently needed at this time on the clock of the world.

This new dream is what we are creating in Detroit.

We are growing our souls at a time when growing our economy is endangering our planet and all living things, including ourselves.


Contact Grace Lee Boggs at


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