Dr. Margaret Burroughs

Dr. Margaret Burroughs died last Sunday night at 95 years old. She was a powerful voice for the African-American community through her art and her commitment to build institutions which would sustain and inspire African-American cultural heritage in Chicago and nationally.

When she was just 22 years old, she helped to start the South Side Community Arts Center which, to this day, still supports and nurtures the arts. In 1961, she and her husband began an African-American museum (originally called the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art), later to be renamed the DuSable Museum, on the first floor of their home on South Michigan Avenue, displaying their personal collection of African art. She was the director at the DuSable Museum for 10 years, and also served on its board since 1986. This museum is the first and oldest of its kind in this country.

Lonnie Bunch, the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, said, “Well, what’s crucially important about Margaret Burroughs is she is part of the generation of people who basically realized that African-American culture – its art, its history needed, not only to be preserved through people’s stories in passing on of tradition, but they needed to be preserved in institutions.”

Burroughs was an artist, most powerfully a printmaker. Her images hang in many schools, institutions, and museums and are in many collections worldwide.  She taught for over 20 years at Du Sable High School, wrote poetry and children’s books which, along with her art, gave voice to the African-American community.

Burroughs was a friend to many of my older artist friends, who worked with her, taught with her, learned with and from her. The mother of a former student of mine, Cheryl Bryson, who is the chairman of the board of DuSable Museum said, “Dr. Burroughs was a true renaissance woman, a visionary and a role model for all…. a prime example of someone who lived ‘The Golden Rule,’ that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The security guard at our school remembered her as very feisty and extremely intelligent. Another colleague recalled her incredible generosity and very high spirits, her drive and her commitment. “She was a shaker and a mover.”

Dr. Burroughs stayed active and vibrant to the end. (Her newest passion was roller skating!) Her life, as a demonstration of what it means to actively engage in one’s cultural heritage and one’s community, both politically and artistically, is an inspiration for us all.

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1 Response to Dr. Margaret Burroughs

  1. Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon says:

    Whenever I think of the struggles those of us in the Black museum world face on a daily basis I only need to recall the first time I read the inspiring poetry of Margaret Burroughs asking the question “What Shall I Tell My Children …” or remember the first conference of the Association of African American Museums and Margaret handing me one of her classic prints with a hug, and seeing her dance at one of the receptions I pause because once again I know why we do what we do in spite of all obstacles. Thank you Margaret I am so grateful you came into my life. I will miss your physical presence but your cultural essence will stay with me forever.

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