Margaret Taylor Burroughs (BA 1942, MA 1948, HON 1987) was an artist, activist, educator, poet, and much more.
Artist, activist, educator, poet, and much more, Margaret Taylor Burroughs (BA 1942, MA 1948, HON 1987) was born in 1915 in St. Rose, Louisiana and moved with her family to Chicago as a child. She attended Englewood High School (with poet Gwendolyn Brooks) and studied at SAIC throughout the 1940s, earning a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Art Education. While at SAIC, Burroughs took a number of art history classes with notable professor, Kathleen Blackshear, a devoted modernist who embraced the non-western canon, namely African art. Burroughs recalls her professor: “Several of my liberal white classmates had informed me that Miss Blackshear, being from the South, was the kind of person who patronized the black students. However, I observed Miss Blackshear for quite some time and I concluded that...[she] was not patronizing at all. Kathleen Blackshear accepted and treated us not as blacks, but as human beings.”
Burroughs taught for more than 20 years at DuSable High School and for 11 years as Professor of Humanities at Kennedy-King College. She was also very active in the Bronzeville community in Chicago, helping to found the first African American art center in the US, the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC), in 1940.. The SSCAC was instrumental in launching and supporting the careers of many African American artists—Gwendolyn Brooks taught there; photographer Gordon Parks was an artist-in-residence; and SAIC alumni Charles White (1936–41) and Elizabeth Catlett (1941) also taught at the SSCAC. In 1961, alongside her husband Charles, she co-founded the DuSable Museum of African American History, originally located on the first floor of their home.
“A lot of black museums have opened up, but we’re the only one that grew out of the indigenous black community,” Burroughs told Black Enterprise magazine in 1980. “We weren’t started by anybody downtown; we were started by ordinary folks.”
Burroughs was awarded an honorary doctorate from SAIC in 1987 and was often called Dr. Burroughs in the community. Burroughs said that SAIC is the school that "made her what she is today." Shortly before her death in 2010, SAIC honored Burroughs with the Legends and Legacy Award (a program of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Leadership Advisory Committee) that honors exceptional African Americans in the visual arts who have excelled in their artistic careers for 50 years or more and have achieved national recognition.