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Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs


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(1917–2010), poet, visual artist, educator, and arts organizer.

Margaret Burroughs was born in St. Rose, Louisiana, near New Orleans, but was brought at the age of five by her parents, Alexander and Octavia Pierre Taylor, to Chicago where she grew up, was educated, and where her distinctive career has unfolded. She attended the public schools of Chicago, including the Chicago Teacher's College. In 1946, she received a BA in education and in 1948, an MA in education from the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1940 to 1968 she was a teacher in the Chicago public schools and subsequently a professor of humanities at Kennedy-King College in Chicago (1969–1979).

Burroughs has a national reputation as a visual artist and as an arts organizer. Her long exhibition record as a painter and printmaker began in 1949 and included exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad. A retrospective of her work was held in Chicago in 1984. As an organizer she was associated with the founding and conduct of a number of arts organizations. It was her founding in 1961 of the DuSable Museum of African-American History, however, that placed her among the outstanding institution builders of her generation. She served as a director of the museum until her appointment as a Commissioner of the Chicago Park District in 1985.

Burroughs also had a commitment to progressive politics, as exemplified by her contributions to such publications as Freedomways, founded by, among others, W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson, both of whom were special heroes to her. She felt a special affinity to the Mexican muralists and both studied and collaborated with artists in Mexico.

Burroughs began her writing career by doing articles and reviews for the Associated Negro Press, founded and directed by Claude Barnett. Her work as an educator led her into writing for children. Her works in this category include Jasper, the Drummin’ Boy (1947) and the anthology Did You Feed My Cow? (1956), both of which underwent subsequent editions.

Burroughs made a distinctive contribution as a poet and as an editor of poets. The bulk of her poems are published in the volumes What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black? (1968) and Africa, My Africa (1970). Her most notable work as an editor was her collaboration with Dudley Randall in the production of the commemorative volume For Malcolm (1967). The forty-three poets represented include established poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, and Robert Hayden; as well as a younger group associated with the Black Arts movement, such as Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, and Mari Evans. Burroughs's own poem on Malcolm X was also included. In this poem, “Brother Freedom,” Burroughs places Malcolm in a pantheon with Toussaint L'Ouverture, Joseph Cinque, Nat Turner, and other heroes of black consciousness. Burroughs also contributed to the rediscovery of the poet Frank Marshall Davis by editing Jazz Interlude (1987).

Burroughs's own poems exult in African and African American culture, taking imagery primarily from the urban milieu of Chicago in which she spent her life. Her connection to Africa was solidified by annual trips to the continent beginning in the late 1960s and continuing to the 1990s. As an early and often lonely pioneer of black consciousness, Burroughs welcomed in her poetry the apparent explosion in the ranks of those subscribing to her vision, particularly among the young. Her welcome, however, was tempered by a critical stance informed by her own progressive politics. In the poem “Only in This Way”, for example, she downplays “wayout hairdos” in favor of blacks “knowing and accepting” themselves.


Subjects: Literature

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