Legendary artist, poet, political activist, and educator, Dr. Margaret Taylor Burroughs, lived her passion. So much so that, in 1961, along with her husband and fellow poet, Charles Burroughs, she founded the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art on the first floor of their Chicago home from their existing collection of artistic objects. This home-based collection, intentionally established amidst the civil rights movement, would ultimately grow into the official Chicago landmark and Smithsonian-affiliated DuSable Museum of African American History.
Burroughs passion for archiving and celebrating the contributions of Black Americans stemmed from her early love of learning. Born in Saint Rose, Louisiana in 1917, Burroughs excelled in school after her supportive parents relocated to Chicago. The creative student would go on to earn an Elementary Teacher’s Certificate from Chicago Normal College in 1937 and study at Chicago Teachers College before attending the Art Institute of Chicago and receiving a B.A. in Art Education in 1946 and her M.A. in 1948.
But even before these impressive academic achievements, Burroughs, at age 22, founded the legendary South Side Community Art Center, a community-serving organization with a gallery and workshop studio for artists and students. It would be her first major contribution to the people and the wellbeing of her beloved southside community and Burroughs would serve on its Board of Directors. The center—the only one of 100 established by the federal Works Progress Administration that still remains open—is commonly regarded the nation’s first Black art museum and has impacted the lives and careers of countless African American artists. It was awarded Chicago Landmark status in 1994, designated a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2017, and was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.
As for the DuSable Museum of African American History, the museum has become a globally acclaimed institution for African American art and is now located in its own buildings in Chicago’s Washington Park. The museum is well-recognized for its array of educational programs, its community access, and its permanent collection of over 13,000 artifacts, artworks, and books, including those of its founder. Burroughs was also known for her sculptures, painting, illustrations, and books, and particularly for her skill as a printmaker focused on celebrating African American culture.
For her many contributions, Burroughs received the President’s Humanitarian Award in 1975. A year later, on February 1, 1986, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington proclaimed the day as “Dr. Margaret Burroughs Day” for the Windy City.
Dr. Margaret Taylor Burroughs passed away on November 21, 2010 at age 93.
“I just couldn’t see myself standing in front of a group of eager-eyed young black people and not being able to tell them something very positive about themselves,” Boroughs once offered. “So I began to dig out information about our people and share it.”
BAIA BITS are produced in part by the generous support of our Patreon members with a special shout out to Zadig & Voltaire.