Monday, February 14, 2005

Maiya Grace & Ossie Davis

Our 13 day old daughter Maiya Grace was named after me and Tony's dear friend and mentor, Grace Lee Boggs, an 89 year old Detroit-based movement activist from the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. Grace is author of the highly recommended book, "Living for Change." Maiya Grace is connected to the esteemed Ossie Davis, because one of Grace Lee Boggs' dearest friends was Ossie, who we met at briefly at Grace's 88th birthday party in Detroit (photo below). Here is an article that Grace wrote upon Ossie's passing.

By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Feb. 13-19, 2005

It is hard to accept that Ossie Davis has made his transition. He was scheduled to come to Detroit in May to receive an award from the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies and to be guest of honor at the premiere of Professional Revolutionary: The Life of Saul Wellman, a documentary about the legendary political activist and survivor of the Spanish Civil War, World War II and McCarthyism.

We were also going to celebrate my 90th birthday with a conversation at the Boggs Center.

I was so looking forward to that conversation.

Like millions of others, I honor Ossie Davis for his gifts and achievements: his majestic voice and imposing presence, his plays and performances, his (and Ruby∂s) blazing the trail for generations of black artists and actors, his (and Ruby∂s) courage and skill in integrating their citizenship/political/Movement lives with their
professional lives.

But I especially cherished Ossie as a black man who, like my late husband Jimmy Boggs, had been born and raised in the Jim Crow South in the early 20th Century, had been part of the Progressive movement after World War II, had refused to be intimidated by the McCarthyism and anti-Communism of the 950s, had marched with Martin and also described Malcolm as "our black shining Prince" in the 1960s, and was helping to build the new movement we now need as we enter the 21st century.

Despite the demands on him as an actor and speaker, Ossie always made time to do benefit performances for Detroit Summer and to sit down with young people who wanted to know how he and Ruby had been able to stay married for so long and/or how they had been able to make their livings as artists and actors without selling out.

Among the questions I wanted to explore with him:

* What have blacks and the country lost because of the integration that was achieved by the civil rights struggles? How does one deal with the new contradictions that arise from successful struggles?

* Why was it so important for blacks and the country that blacks refused to be intimidated by McCarthyism?

* What did he learn from growing up in the rural South that might help young blacks raised in urban ghettoes?

* Why did Jimmy think that "being locked in racism was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to us"?

At Jimmy's Memorial celebration in 1993 Ossie described how he had often been "born again" through encounters with Jimmy. This is how he summed up their last meeting.

Jimmy was ill and couldn∂t come to the program. But when I got to the house, he immediately embraced me with one hand and with the other gave me three pages on which. were the questions which had to be
resolved to make this an intelligent and decent society. So Jimmy gave me my assignment, and reading the questions and his thoughts and propositions about them, once again I was born again. Because I came across the concept that Racism as we had used it in our struggle was no longer valid. Racism was indeed a very small designation of what the problems were. What we needed to do was enlarge our frame of reference. Our struggle indeed could only be meaningful if it was a struggle in which everybody was fought for instead of fought over; nobody was any greater or any less than anyone else. The struggle in its purest sense had to be focused on elevating the lives of all the people.

No comments: