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The H3O/Art of Life Blog

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Speaking of Legacy: Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

By Dr. Mary Ann Cain

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University

The graphic for this H3O Art of Life Blog is the Historic photograph, taken by John Moye, in front of The South Side Community Art Center, of Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs with some of the many Chicago artists who form a part of her legacy via one of the institutions that she co-founded. The photo was the brainchild of renown artist, Jonathon Romain, who is seated in the front row on the Left of Dr. Burroughs.

Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs promoted the idea of legacy for much of her life. But legacy wasn’t just an idea to her; it was something she actively made happen. Most of us who knew her—or "of her"—point to her best-known legacies: the South Side Community Art Center; the DuSable Museum of African-American History; her immense body of art and writing; her hundreds of students; the founding of the National Congress of Arts and the National Negro Museum and Historical Foundation; the Art Crafts Guild; and so many other institutions, organizations, creative work, and mentoring relationships. But, how was this woman—a daughter, wife, mother, full-time teacher and (at times) primary breadwinner—able to accomplish so very much?

Dr. Gloria Latimore-Peace’s answer to this has been, “She didn’t know she couldn’t do things.” [1] And indeed, Dr. Burroughs did not fear taking on seemingly impossible tasks. But then, what made her think she could do whatever she took on?

The word, “inspiration,” is often overused and under-examined. “Inspire” incorporates the word, “spirit.” One’s spirit must be stirred to be inspired. We hear so many stories of great artists, like Dr. Burroughs, seemingly finding inspiration wherever they went. Concurrently, we hear of artists and writers who face blocks, cannot find inspiration, and struggle to produce. Such cultural narratives imply that inspiration is something that depends upon luck, or money, or some other outward assistance.

The unacknowledged aspect of Dr. Burroughs’ legacy is in how she did not merely seek inspiration; she cultivated it. The following poem illustrates how she cultivated inspiration by the confidence and, at the same time, humility with which she faced the world:

"I am but one, but I am one.

I cannot do everything,

but I can do something.

What I can do, I ought to do

--and what I ought to do,

I will do.[2]

I was fortunate to meet Dr. Burroughs in her later years, in the full bloom of her wisdom and wonder. This poem became—and still is—my mantra for facing those moments when things seem too overwhelming or impossible. It helped me write her biography even though I had never written a biography before.[3] It continues to help me generate the inspiration needed to move through this troubled world with a measure of hope, joy, and optimism. I am inspired to pass on a legacy that includes that of Dr. Burroughs. It is my honor and privilege to do so.[4]

Recommended Viewing


[2] Untitled poem, Life with Margaret, p.17.

[3] This biography will hopefully serve as an inspiration to others to write other biographies of Dr. Burroughs. Her life was much bigger and deeper than I alone could capture.

[4] For more information, see the Facebook page for South Side Venus: The Legacy of Dr. Margaret Burroughs:

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