Art and Activism: the Life and Works of Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs
Author: Wanawat Wechakit
Program of Study: LL.M. Law School
Do you think art and activism are conflicting?
Let’s find out in this podcast how these two concepts, when combined, can transform the society in a unique way
through the works and life of a poet, writer, teacher, reformer, artist and above all an activist:
Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs
“Woman” by Dr. Burroughs. This picture, portraying a woman with half-black and white faces and body, reveals Dr. Burroughs’s belief in racial equality.
(transcript was provided by student and is unedited)
- Welcome to the ELI’s Finding Chicago Global Perspectives Podcast Series for AEPP 2021. I’m your host, Wanawat Wechakit, and I’m currently enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Law School. Today we will be exploring this one Chicagoan who is an example of people bringing about the change they want to see in this world by art, education, and culture.
- the story of Margaret Taylor Burroughs
- whose favorite quote is “If first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
- As a preparation for my first day of the AEPP course,
I was assigned homework to explore Chicago beaches.
I started looking them up from this great website, com,
- and then I found lots of these amazing beaches all around Chicago most of them are named after streets such as 57th 12th and North Avenue beaches. Then, I came across this one beach, Margaret T. Burroughs Beach.
- This name caught my attention. As a student of English as
a second language, I happened to not be able to pronounce this name properly and correctly. So, I just googled “Margaret T. Burroughs Pronunciation” and the first thing that popped up is the video of Miss Burroughs reading her masterpiece poem which is called “What shall I tell my children who are black.” After watching this video, I just thought to myself
- “How come I never heard of this person before”
- Burroughs was born in St. Rose, Louisiana 1917,
- And at the age of three she moved to Chicago with her family during the Great Migration of African American people in 1920.
- As an artist, she produced a lot of artworks conveying the message of racial equality and human dignity.
- For example, Dr. Burroughs used art to make a statement that
“skin color is just an over-emphasized minor difference among people.”
- This can be seen through a lot of her work showing black and white people living together in harmony or people with half-white or half-black faces.
- However, as an artist, she did not only make artwork, but also established art institutions.
- In 1940 and her team, Dr. burrough and her team played a major role in creating the South Side Community Art Center in 1940
- it has played a major role for the development Chicago’s African American artists by connecting community members and visitors to African American art.
- In 1961, Miss Burrough founded The Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art on the very first floor of her home.
- Miss Burrough would describe this place as “Although this museum may not be the first or the biggest African American museums in the world, but it is the only one that grew out of the African American community, started by ordinary people”
- Today the museum was renamed DuSable museum, located in Washington Park
- And it is a must-visit site for those of you who interested in the roots of African American Culture. The exhibition here includes the art and impact of Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs herself, Chicago 1919 Race Riot, stories of colored woman in WWI
- As an educator and prison reformer, she visited Statesville maximum prison for over 30 years to help the prisoners, her students, transform their lives through art and writing education
- Burrough’s technique is to make all students believe that they are artists whether they know it or not. So, art is not supposed to be hard it is supposed something that is already inside of everybody.
- By doing this, Dr. Burroughs allows the inmates to communicate to the outside world regarding their conditions in prisons and their feeling as a human-being.
- All of this is done with a hope to one day transform criminal systems.
- Being a black African American woman during probably the worst time of racism and sexism in America’s history, Dr. Burroughs had to face challenges from both her skin color and her gender.
- But as you can see those things could not and did not stop her.
- She knew that the inequality she endured was not acceptable to anyone: the Black, the White, the Asian and any other races.
- That is when she used something that she did the best, which is art, to communicate in the wider context of activism. What we would call today as “Artistic Activism”
- An April 9th 2018 article by Stephen Duncombe and Steve Lambert from the Center for Artistic Activism said that,
- “at first glance the aims of art and activism seem inconsistent with one another.
- While Activism moves the material world leading to protest or marching.
- Art moves the heart, body, and soul of people.
- however, these two concepts are actually complimentary.
- Social change doesn’t just happen, it happens because people decide to make change.”
- And when you combine these Art and Activism together, Artistic Activism can escape the limitation of traditional forms of protests and produce a fruitful outcome where people and the societies communicate and express their wills through arts.
- Especially, in the country facing threat of repressive regimes where people in power make a clear rule that any forms of protest is unacceptable. And if you break this rule, there will be prices to pay for, whether it is an arrest, tear gas, water cannon, or even torture.
- However, Artistic activism can escape and slip through the radar of the authorities as they may not be categorized as “politics” or “protest” while still able to communicate messages to the public.
- Artistic activism is not a new concept; it has been around for a longtime. However, artistic activism has become more and more impactful not only in America but all around the globe.
- In London, a street artist named Banksy uses street art to protest human greed and consumerism
- In Australia, Mariana debris uses fashion to raise awareness of recycling and ocean pollution
- In many countries, with the influence of the internet, many creators posted their artwork on social media to express their opinions to the government
- Burrough’s and these artists’ stories are examples of how important artistic activism can be in creating “visions” or guide the public what really is going on in the society and pave ways for more concrete actions to follow
- Imagine that while it might take years of training for ones to understand about laws, politics, or root causes of social issues, it might take an hour or even minutes for them to understand the legal and political implications of an artwork.
- I hope you enjoy the story of Dr. Margaret t Burroughs
- Apart from her extraordinary personality and her action of Artistic Activism,
- what we can learn from Dr. Burrough’s story is the belief that we all can contribute to this societies.
- It may be true that the government has the most important role in creating jobs, building infrastructure, and providing state welfare.
- But, How many people or countries have suffered greatly from failed government?
- And when that happened what can we, as an individual, do to make things better?
- Burrough’s story reminds me that
- There is an activist and artist inside all of us
- and we all can bring about changes we want to see in the world.
- And if first you don’t succeed, try, try again
Image: SOUTH SIDE STORIES: THE ART AND INFLUENCE OF DR. MARGARET T. BURROUGHS, 1960-1980. (n.d.). https://www.dusablemuseum.org/exhibition/south-side-stories/.
Music: The swinging dutchman by Stefan Kartenberg (c) copyright 2021 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/JeffSpeed68/63276 Ft: Martijn de Boer (NiGiD)
- Francis, Meredith. “‘Chicago, I Love You!” Margaret BURROUGHS’ Creative Legacy in Chicago.” WTTW Chicago, 17 Sept. 2020, interactive.wttw.com/playlist/2020/09/17/margaret-burroughs-legacy.
- “About Us.” DuSable Museum of African American History, 1 Apr. 2021, www.dusablemuseum.org/about-us/
- “About Us.” South Side Community Art Center, 20 Jan. 2021, www.sscartcenter.org/about-us/
- Boyd, Herb. “Margaret Burroughs, Artist and Co-Founder OF DuSable Museum.” New York Amsterdam News: The New Black View, 25 Jan. 2018, amsterdamnews.com/news/2018/jan/25/margaret-burroughs-artist-and-co-founder-dusable-m/.
- Budovitch, Max. “Do You KNOW Margaret Burroughs?” South Side Weekly, 8 Nov. 2018, southsideweekly.com/know-margaret-burroughs-dusable/.
- Burton, Olivia. “5 Artist-Activists Who Are Changing the World.” The Green Hub, 3 Oct. 2018, thegreenhubonline.com/2018/10/04/5-artist-activists-who-are-changing-the-world/.
- District, Chicago Park. “Margaret T. Burroughs Beach and Park – Pier 31: Concession.” Chicago Park District, www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/margaret-t-burroughs-beach.
- “Dr. Margaret T Burroughs.” YouTube, The DuSable Museum of African American History, 9 Jan. 2011, youtu.be/fEwU86r-nTo. Accessed 26 Aug. 2021.
- Duncombe, Stephen, and Steve Lambert. “Why Artistic Activism?” The Center for Artistic Activism, 15 Dec. 2020, c4aa.org/2018/04/why-artistic-activism.
- The HistoryMakers. “Margaret Burroughs.” The HistoryMakers , www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/margaret-burroughs-40. Accessed 21 Aug. 2021.
- “Our Tuesday Girl: An Unfurling for Dr. MARGARET T. G. Burroughs.” The People’s Forum, 1 June 2021, peoplesforum.org/event/our-tuesday-girl-an-unfurling-for-dr-margaret-t-g-burroughs/.
- “Prison Culture ” Dr. Margaret Burroughs: Prison Educator & Reformer.” Prison Culture RSS, 10 Oct. 2012, www.usprisonculture.com/blog/2012/10/10/dr-margaret-burroughs-prison-educator-reformer/.
- “South Side Community Art Center.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 May 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Side_Community_Art_Center.
- “SOUTH Side Stories – the Art and Influence OF DR. MARGARET T. Burroughs to OPEN September 13, 2018 at THE DUSABLE MUSEUM.” Citizen Newspaper Group Inc., 6 Sept. 2018, citizennewspapergroup.com/news/2018/sep/06/south-side-stories-art-and-influence-dr-margaret-t/.