In her dedication to educating others and advocating for African American art, Margaret Burroughs became a cultural leader and role model. Born in St. Rose, Louisiana in 1917, Burroughs and her family followed the Great Migration north to Chicago in 1922. She made the most of many valuable opportunities throughout her lifetime, beginning at Englewood High School, where she first became interested in art, and became the youngest member of George Neal’s Art Crafts Guild. She later studied at the Chicago Normal School.
At age 22, she founded the South Side Community Art Center, a community organization that continues to serve as a gallery and workshop studio for artists and students. In the early 1950’s, Burroughs started the Lake Meadows Art Fair where African Americans could showcase and sell their art. Burroughs lived in Mexico for a time, where she studied print making and mural painting with the Taller Editorial de Grafica Popular (People’s Graphic Workshop) under Leopoldo Mendez, a prominent printmaker of the Diego Rivera circle. When she returned to the States, she and her husband Charles founded the DuSable Museum of African American History in their living room. It remained there for nearly a decade until it moved to its own building in Chicago’s Washington Park.
Burroughs was also an accomplished poet and author of children’s books. In 1975 she received the President’s Humanitarian Award, and in 1977 was distinguished as one of Chicago’s Most Influential Women by the Chicago Defender. February 1, 1986 was proclaimed “Dr. Margaret Burroughs Day” in Chicago by late Mayor Harold Washington. Burroughs passed away on November 21, 2010.
In 2018, the exhibitions The Art and Influence of Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs and The Time Is Now! Art Worlds of Chicago’s South Side, 1960-1980, were presented concurrently; the former at her beloved museum, and the latter at the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. The book South Side Venus: The Legacy of Margaret Burroughs by Mary Ann Cain was also published. Together they provide a closer look at the life and legacy of this remarkable woman who continues to inspire generations.