Dr. Margaret Burroughs: A Rich Legacy Defined by Commitment

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By Juanita Bratcher


Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Founder and President Emeritus of the DuSable Museum of African American History, has died. She was 95 years old.

 Burroughs, an Artist, Writer, Educator and Poet, made a lifetime contribution to the Cultural Arts and leaves a great legacy in the annals of history. She was a visionary with a passion for the Arts, an inspiration to many – those who knew her up-close and those who watched her from a distance.

Burroughs was devoted to preserving African American history. And she did a yeoman’s job in her efforts to preserve that history.

“Every individual wants to leave a legacy; to be remembered for something positive they have done for their community,” she said in Ebony Magazine. “Long after I’m dead and gone, the [DuSable] museum will still be here.”

And indeed, the DuSable Museum is a laborious lifetime contribution Burroughs made to African Americans and the American Art culture. Burroughs built a strong institution through her dedicated commitment and focused devotion to a dream that turned into a historical legacy. She dreamed it! She lived it!

President Barack Obama in a statement on the passing of Dr. Burroughs said: “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.  In 1961, Dr. Burroughs founded the DuSable Museum of African-American History on the South Side of Chicago, which served as a beacon of culture and a resource worldwide for African-American history. She was also admired for her generosity and commitment to underserved communities through her children’s books, art workshops and community centers that both inspired and educated young people about African-American culture. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dr. Burroughs’ family and loved ones. Her legacy will live on in Chicago and around the world.”

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin issued a statement stating that “Dr. Margaret Burroughs’ legacy can be found in the thousands who learned the lessons of art and history because of her dogged determination.”

Rev. Harold Bailey, Founder and President of Probation Challenge and the PCC Broadcast Network, said of Burroughs: “The love Dr. Margaret Burroughs had for people was beyond that of lip-service. She dedicated her life to serving others, especially those who could not help themselves. For many years, we traveled over Illinois’ highways together visiting prisons in areas we would not have done otherwise. Dr. ‘B’, as she was affectionately known to many, was dedicated to Probation Challenge and the PCC Broadcast Network, where she would often engage in dialogue with Queen Mother Helen Sinclair during filming of Sinclair’s truth broadcast. Dr. ‘B’ will forever remain in our hearts – for her spirit is pure and tells of truth and justice.”  

Johnny Acoff, a retired law enforcement officer, said he was saddened by Burroughs’s death. “Dr. Burroughs was like a family member,” he said. “I enjoyed her a great deal. She was so real; we did many things together.”

Acoff and his wife, Bonnie, Burroughs and the late Ramon Price, DuSable Museum’s Curator, started Underground Railroad Tours.

Focusing on the Underground Railroad Tours, Acoff said: “We (Burroughs and other founders) visited many historical landmarks. 

“She was community minded, a very concerned person,” said Acoff. “She believed in helping other people, especially young people. She tried to steer them in the right direction.”

“She was so energetic,” said Clarence McMillan, a local Artist and Video film maker who also attended The Art Institute of Chicago. McMillan’s art work embraces the covers of a variety of books, magazines and other materials. “She spent a lot of time visiting prisons and teaching inmates about the specifics of art. She was just amazing, an outright gem who didn’t mind giving of herself to others.”

Burroughs was born in St. Rosa, Louisiana, on November 1, 1915. Reportedly, she died in her sleep at her home in Chicago, IL, on November 21, 2010.

Burroughs, a graduate of Chicago Teachers College now known as Chicago State University, also earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Fine Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago. For 23 years, she was a teacher at DuSable High School in Chicago, and logged in another 10 years at Kennedy King College where she taught Humanities.

In 1961, Burroughs and her husband, Charles, co-founded the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art now known as The DuSable Museum of African American History. Since that time, her contributions have been wide-range. She was respected not only for her efforts but for that which she accomplished. She had a way of making one think with her thought provoking words of wisdom, her art work and principles about life itself.

Commissioner Burroughs was also a member of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners. She was appointed to the Board on May 9, 1986. Her current term was to expire on April 26, 2013.

The last time I saw Dr. Margaret Burroughs one-on-one was September 12, 2009 at Acoff’s annual event which she had attended for the last seven or eight years. She was gracious, giving me an Autographed copy of a small booklet titled: “Know Yourself.”   

 Burroughs leaves a great legacy, one of commitment and a wide-range of contributions to the cultural arts.

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