Nov
22

Chicago Celebrates the Life of a Leader

November 22, 2010

Today Chicago is honoring the life of Dr. Margaret Burroughs, who started the DuSable Museum of African American History in the living room of her Chicago home almost 50 years ago.

Margaret Burroughs

Dr. Margaret Burroughs

Burroughs, a prominent artist, writer and community activist, died in her home in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Sunday. She was 95 years old.

Born in Louisiana, Burroughs moved to Chicago as a teen and attended Englewood High School. After receiving a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as several honorary degrees, she became known as Dr. Burroughs.

She taught art at DuSable High School for more than 20 years and humanities at Kennedy-King College for 10, and in the 1940s, she helped co-found the South Side Community Art Center, an organization that assists emerging and established artists.

In 1961, when she felt her African-American children weren’t learning enough about their background, Burroughs and her husband started a creation of about 100 items on the first floor of their home on South Michigan and called it the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art.

This would become the DuSable Museum, which today has a collection of more than 100,000 pieces in its Washington Park building.

Wood cut on paper by Margaret Burroughs entitled, "The Faces of My People."

Among Burroughs’ other noteworthy accomplishments:

*She was a sculpture and painter but became best known for her skills as a print maker.

*She wrote children’s books and poetry books on the African-American experience.

*She helped launch the National Conference of African-American Artists.

*She taught art and poetry to prison inmates, and spent the last 35 Christmas Days at the Cook County Jail with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “Dr. Burroughs was a pillar of strength and character in our community,” said Jackson. “Dr. Margaret Burroughs radiated hope.”

*She was appointed a member of the National Commission on African-American History and Culture by President Jimmy Carter.

*She was a commissioner for the Chicago Park District since 1986

*She was inducted into the Chicago Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989

*She won the Paul Robeson Award, an honor named after the African American singer and actor known for his political activism in the ’50s — this award has also been presented to such well-known figures as Studs Terkel, Maya Angelou, Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier.

*She recently received the Legends and Legacy Award from the Art Institute of Chicago

Dr. Burroughs reportedly didn’t want a funeral. There will be a public memorial service, probably after the holidays.

“Michelle and I are saddened by the passing of Dr. Margaret Burroughs, who was widely admired for her contributions to American culture as an esteemed artist, historian, educator, and mentor,” said President Obama in a statement. “She was admired for her generosity and commitment to under-served communities through her children’s books, art workshops and community centers that both inspired and educated young people about African-American culture.”

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