Our Girl Tuesday: An Unfurling for Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs

Page 1

Our Girl Tuesday

An Unfurling for Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs

First edition, 2021

Sojourners for Justice Press

Our Girl Tuesday An Unfurling for Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs

Contents 006 Introduction, Mariame Kaba 014 Notes From the editors From the designer Acknowledgements

016 Small Illuminations, Tara Betts

018 Liberated by Love: Early Lessons Gifted from Margaret, Skyla Hearn

036 Sincerely Yours: On Letters To and From Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs, Tempestt Hazel 060 The Pedagogy of Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs, Sarah Ross 088 Unfurling Albert Kirkman Angel Bat Dawid Arkee Chaney Cedric X Cal Devon Daniels Faheem Majeed Jan Tichy Margaret Burroughs Collective


MARIAME KABA The whole motivation of my work… is for the liberation of my people in particular, and broadly, for the end of imperialist oppression of all underprivileged people. —Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs

I’ve been obsessed with Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs for decades. After I moved to Chicago in 1995, one of my first visits was to the DuSable Museum, which she co-founded in her living room in 1959. In 1997 I learned that she had been teaching in various prisons and jails across Illinois since the 1970s. In 1999 I had the good fortune to meet her at an arts event and to tell her how much she meant to me as an artist, teacher, and activist. For years I’ve been threatening to make a zine about her life, but never got to it. Finally, in 2020, ten years after she died at the age of 95, I reached out to my friend Sarah Ross. Sarah is an artist and educator based in Chicago. She teaches at Stateville prison, 35 miles away, through an organization she co-founded called the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project (PNAP). I asked Sarah if she would be interest-


ed in creating a publication focused in part on Dr. Burroughs’s work inside prisons and jails. I knew that Sarah, like me, was interested in her legacy as an artist and educator. To my great excitement, Sarah agreed. Then she went to work reaching out to Skyla Hearn, Tempestt Hazel, Tara Betts and other incredible artists, writers, archivists, and activists in Chicago to contribute their ideas and talents to making this publication a reality. I could not be happier about the result of their collaboration. My sincere gratitude to all of the contributors. People who know of Margaret Burroughs beyond Chicago may know her best as an artist or founder of the DuSable Museum. They may also know that she was a teacher, a writer, a poet, an institution builder, a criminal justice reformer, and a globetrotter as well. Perhaps fewer know Margaret Burroughs as a Black leftist. She never called herself radical but said that others had used the word to describe her. Writer John Oliver Killens once called writer and activist Lorraine Hansberry “a socialist with a black nationalist perspective.” It’s a description that suits Margaret Burroughs, too. She was all of those things, as well as anti-colonialist, internationalist, and anti-imperialist.

The Cold War hit Chicago––and its Black leftists, including Burroughs––hard. Burroughs and other Black leftists weathered the repression by focusing on art, education, and public 007

history. In so doing, they maintained connection with Black communities and continued to nurture and encourage dissent. Ian Rocksborough-Smith’s scholarship shows us that some Black radicals sought to realize their political ideas through cultural activism from the postwar era through the Cold War.1 One way that this played out in Chicago was to imagine a Black museum. Rocksborough-Smith writes about the repression that Dr. Burroughs experienced: Burroughs was actually motivated by her troubles with McCarthyism to found the museum project. She faced FBI surveillance and, most notably, local Chicago Police Department harassment at her doorstep that resulted in her appearance before the city’s Board of Education in 1952. The Board attempted unsuccessfully to attain information from her about local Communists. One scholar notes how many Chicago teachers faced scrutiny from the Chicago Police Department’s Subversive Unit, or ‘Red Squad,’ which started to investigate the political activities of all those who applied to or worked for the city, state, and county, and especially the Chicago public schools” in the 1940s and 1950s—

1  Ian Rocksborough-Smith, Black Public History in Chicago: Civil Rights Activism from World War II into the Cold War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018).



information which the department then shared with the federal House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

A brief perusal of Burroughs’s Red Squad file clearly indicates the high level of surveillance she and no doubt many others were subjected to at the hands of the city’s police department. It includes entries on seventy-four public events she allegedly attended and publications she authored or was mentioned in from local newspapers and publications between 1950 and 1968.2

Though neither joined the Communist Party USA, Margaret Burroughs and her husband Charles were influenced by Paul Robeson, W. E. B. Du Bois, William and Louise Patterson. Burroughs and other Black leftists in Chicago survived the repression of the post-war and Cold War eras by practicing public history, planning new institutions, and making relevant art.

In her later years, Dr. Burroughs was a prison educator and reformer. This zine highlights this part of her work and legacy. She believed that art is for everyone and she put this belief to work inside prisons. She taught creative writing 2  Ian Rocksborough-Smith, “Margaret T.G. Burroughs and Black Public History in Cold War Chicago,” The Black Scholar 41, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 32



and creative arts at Stateville for over 30 years. She donated art supplies and regularly brought in books for the prisoners. Burroughs died in 2010, yet her legacy still permeates Stateville Prison. Glenance Green spent several months in 2012 volunteering with an educational program at Stateville Prison.3 There, she heard many stories from the prisoners about their love and respect for Dr. Burroughs. At an in-person discussion group that Glenance convened about Dr. Burroughs, a prisoner named Delandis said, “Any artwork hanging around here, she inspired somebody to do it.”

February 1st is Dr. Margaret Burroughs day at Stateville, which organizes an annual memorial service for her. One prisoner suggested, “We want her canonized.” The people incarcerated at Stateville prison weren’t the only ones she inspired and taught. For the last 35 years of her life, she and the Rev. Jesse Jackson spent Christmas Day inside Chicago’s Cook County Jail. Dr. Burroughs profoundly impacted incarcerated people. You will hear from some of them throughout this publication. In the discussion group facilitated by Glenance in 2012, two years after Dr. Burroughs’s death, several prisoners

3  In 2012 I worked with Glenance Green on the exhibition “Black/Inside.” We included some of the information that she gathered in her focus group in the exhibition.



shared their reflections:

That’s major! For me, inspiration. Every time she saw me, she would tell how beautiful my eyes were. She would always ask me about the legacy that I would be leaving. She was a living legend amongst us. I was in my 20s when I met her. I loved her, in life and in death. All of the guys who took her class, everyone who came in touch with her you saw a change/ difference in their lives. —Delandis Some people believe that when you come to prison, life is over with, but when she stepped inside of the prison, she became one of us. She was always moving, doing stuff. No matter what race or nationality you were, you were always expected to be doing something with your life. She was real strong. One day they shot the gun and she didn’t even move. —Demetrius She constantly told me that even though they locked up your body doesn’t mean that they locked up your mind. She was special, one of the most humble people that I have ever met. She had an amazing memory. She could recall conversations that we had 17 years before. It made me feel special. I prayed for her daily. I love the woman because of her MARIAME KABA


spirit. I don’t think that a spirit like that could be in a person without a love for God. I loved her. She was amazing. They didn’t want her here. Many times they banned her from this place and she turned it around. Who fights to get into prison? [incessant laughter] She was steel. —Eddie She was a spirit of encouragement and inspiration. —Darius

Two words to describe Dr. Burroughs: self-sacrificing and humility. She was a walking and living legend. She would often take public transportation here to see us. People’s families don’t even come visit them but she–a stranger– would. —Andre

She considered and accepted all of us as family. She would leave her own church to come to ours. —Donald The guys really had an appreciation of her. Even in midst of the security here, she had no fear. —Edgar The effect that she had on individuals, she was a beacon of light. She was hope. I would think, “Wow, how is this woman doing this?”—Nacho She had been in the whole I.D.O.C. for about 35–40 years. One thing 012


that she said to me is, “You always draw with dark colors. It reflects depression from deep within.” I learned a lot about myself. She had a good spirit. She would say, “I ain’t gon give you no more dark colors. I’m going to give you bright colors.” And she did. I would color and smile. —Stan

Writer and healing justice practitioner Aurora Levins Morales has said, “We need to all have a stake in how we understand our past, to feel ownership of the project, to excavate our collective memories and share what we discover. How we understand our past shapes what we can imagine for our futures.”

This is something that Margaret Burroughs well understood. She radically shaped “what we can imagine for our futures.” I hope that you enjoy this beautiful publication created with so much care and love, and that it encourages you to learn more about this extraordinary woman. Mariame Kaba Founder and Director, Project NIA Sojourners for Justice Press



Editors’s Note

This collection of essays, interviews, poetry, art and archives honors and reflects the immense influence Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs had on the political and cultural life of Chicago and the lives of people she met. Dr. Burroughs was cut like a diamond, each facet of her work shaped another. She was an educator, community organizer, activist, artist, poet, historian and she built some of the city’s great, lasting institutions.

A special section of this booklet includes an Unfurling. This is a social practice introduced to this project by Skyla Hearn whereby people, as liberatory memory workers, pull materials from existing archives and share what those materials mean to them. In this iteration, we pulled from existing archives, gathered new materials and also created new works to be entered into the archive of Dr. Burroughs. In this way, this collection iterates the impact of Dr. Burroughs and her politics of culture, care, freedom and love for Black people. Tempestt Hazel, Skyla Hearn and Sarah Ross

Designer’s Note

The design was an intimate collaboration between myself, Skyla, Tempestt and Sarah, who brought rigorous care and intentionality into the process. I also see the design process as a collaboration with and conjuring of the spirit of Dr. Burroughs. In these pages, you’ll see nods to her use of widely accessible and legible fonts, and gesticulations towards her use of borders, color, and imagery. In making this zine, I learned how Dr. Burroughs left

threads of herself behind in her zines and wove a legacy that unravels the logics of capitalism and anti-Blackness—the same anti-Blackness that made it so I understood more about the non-Black history of the do-it-yourself punk culture and riot grrrl movement that popularized zine-making before I learned about Dr. Burroughs’s subversive zine-making and publishing practice that preceded them. Dr. Burroughs was a Riot grrrl. Her zines brought joy, rage, understanding, spirituality, playfulness and criticality to the hands and minds they touched. It’s my hope this zine can do the same for all who read it. Neta Bomani


Our deepest thank you goes out to Project NIA and Mariame for asking us to create this project. Going deep into the Margaret Burroughs archives and the work of people influenced by her is immensely joyous and grounding. Thank you to Noor Shawaf for excellent editing, Monica Stokes and S. Nicole Lane for fantastic transcriptions and the amazing Neta Bomani for beautiful design. We’d like to thank our families and friends who supported us with time and patience. All creative endeavours involve less visible labor, we couldn’t do this without them. Thank you. Finally, a big shout out to all of Dr. Burroughs’s former students at Stateville and Pontiac Prisons, Cook County Jail, DuSable High School, and anyone who has been forever changed by her work and legacy.

Small Illuminations TARA BETTS

I. Albert is a gentle tower. His arms arched over tabletop like bridge beams or girders. Even if he does not understand everything he reads, he smiles like a good kid, like the kid he probably was 30-some-years ago when he was in the wrong car with the wrong people at the wrong time that he will never get back. II. The attention to detail borders on flawless. Unscuffed white sneakers, perfected lined fades tucked under precisely folded skullies immaculate with what you got as a clean, hard-fought pride.

III. One week, I bring crisp folders a bundle of sharpened pencils with full pink erasers, round and soft as a doll’s blush. They rub away small errors, 016

clearing smudges from a page like an actual correction. IV. I look for Albert’s easy grin first when I walk into the concrete block classroom. Locked in the education building, relieved that the broken window denies the cold like a plea. One brother in blues with thermal sleeves peeking out of the dull faded ocean of cloth arching over his torso. A cellmate hands me the slightly worn, safeguarded, staple-bound book of poems— the signature resolute and matching letters of a poet’s name who strolled into prison like a mother without fear of any child. Margaret Burroughs—more than a decade since she left the cell of her body. I clutch her poems knowing how they passed from her hands like a prayer. We both smile— small illuminations in a dark hell—when the cellmate says Albert wanted you to have this. He got transferred. He knew you’d keep it safe.


Liberated by Love: Early Lessons Gifted from Margaret SKYLA HEARN

Let me offer an introduction to the biographical sketch of the early life and times of Margaret Burroughs: Dr. Margaret T .G. Burroughs has cemented her presence as an influence in my academic and professional pursuits since 2013, prior to completing graduate school and continuing nearly a decade thereafter. I have spent an ample amount of my professional career as a cultural and liberatory memory work legacy holder to uphold the contributions of the many women and men who have preceded me, in addition to ones whom I still inhabit the Earth with and step along with side by side. What began as a mere infatuation with Dr. Burroughs’s historical record grew into a full on love affair that has sparked my intellectual curiosity with an unquenchable thirst to learn all there is to know about the enigmatic presence and seemingly endless contributions of one of our most profound ancestors. And to amplify the brilliance and complexities of Dr. Burroughs, a person who has influenced thousands, is revered as one of the most respected, remarkable, complex women of our time concerned with and who dedicated her life to the liberation of Black people and the global community. 018

In this biographical sketch of Dr. Burroughs’s younger self, her words will be lifted from multiple archival sources to “talk” to you about how she came to be the person she was through the “critical fabulation”1 methodology developed by esteemed author and professor Saidiya Hartman. Dr. Burroughs possessed many accolades, one being that of a storyteller. What would be more befitting than to experience “being in conversation” with hers truly? 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. ––Margaret T. G. Burroughs

Let me take you down the corridors of my life… Born Margaret after my father’s oldest sister Mary, my Saint name Victoria, my maternal grandmother’s name. Holding the legacies of matriarchs in my direct lineage of my father, Christopher Alexander Taylor and my mother, Olivia Pierre Taylor, I entered the world with a mission as a legacy 1  Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 12, no. 2 (June 2008): 1–14.


keeper. And to ensure that you honor the legacy you have inherited and created during your stay on Earth. If you ever heard tell of me or met me directly then you are keenly aware of the question that I would pose to all those that crossed my path which was ‘What will your legacy be?’ “Do you know what the word legacy means?”

Well, if you don’t know, let me tell you what the dictionary says it means. Legacy: property or money left to some one by a will; something handed down from those who have gone before; a legacy of honor, our legacy, of freedom. In this poem, I’m not referring to material things like property or money, either of honor or of freedom. I am referring to what a person has done with this life that God has given to him or her. Yes, I want to know what will your legacy be? Figure 002 will your Legacy Be? chapbook This is a question What cover. Personal collection of Skythat I would like la Hearn. Figure 001 Dr. Burroughs’s lineage. Life with Margaret: The Official Autobiography by Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs, pg. 128



to put to each and everyone of you?” “Think now! Act now! To insure that your legacy will be a positive contribution to humanity and you will be remembered, yes, you will be remembered, on and on and into eternity as God wills it. What will your Legacy Be?”2 I took my lessons from Paul (Robeson) but before him my mother and father. Let me take you down the corridors of my life. I have been looking for something for a long time. In a lot of places. This is my quest. It is all tied up with me and people and what has happened. Sometimes the story doesn’t go in a straight line because there are few things tossed in that Figure 003 I just wanted to reDr. Burroughs with Paul Robeson. 3 Life with Margaret: The Official member. Autobiography by Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs, pg. 130.

It only seemed natural to become a teacher, to lead the mind in edu-

2  Excerpt taken directly from What will your Legacy Be? chapbook, reprinted May 9, 2007. The chapbook was reprinted to obtain contributions for the “To The Culture Fund” to purchase art material for prison inmate artists. This section is written as it was printed and should maintain the integrity of the creator. 3  Excerpt from Margaret T. G. Burroughs, My Quest (An Autobiographical Note).



cational pursuits, to lead the people “my people” into a better existence by educating and empowering them about who they were, are and possess the potential to be. And to educate others about who we are and “stuff like that.” Black history is American history. I have always been of that mind that a person needs to know all the aspects of the story, not just a carved out section. What good would that do? So, I took it upon myself to educate the masses with little pieces of history they could carry around on them.

I wrote, published and printed little books like the “A.B.C. of Great Black Americans” because if for no other reason peoFigure 004 ple needed to know! A.B.C. of Great Black Americans chapbook cover. Personal collec- And what was more tion of Skyla Hearn. insulting is that for every George Washington there was not a Frederick Douglass so I took matters into my own hands to change or add to having us written into history. If they weren’t going to put it into books then I would create books, poems, writings that educated on Blacks in history, Black history and tell the truth which is that we are a part of this great country as much as any other group of people living here. These books, my writings and teaching the young up to and including the old provide the proof and fuels the knowledge 022


about our people.

Born in St. Rose, Louisiana on November 1, 1915 or 1917 or maybe even later…you see my birth records were mixed up with one of my older sister’s when my mother received them after having withstood trials of aggravation to request and obtain the records in a timely manner. White folks barely cared about us so you know they weren’t exactly keen when it came to diligently and efficiently complying with those of us skilled in reading, writing and who would boldly demand goods and services such as receiving a copy of one’s own family’s vital records.

As I was saying I was born in St. Rose, south of Lake Pontchartrain a few miles west of New Orleans on the Mississippi. My father and grandfather were agriculturalists who purchased land during the early 1920s in this small town that had once been the very place their ancestors were enslaved on. Can you imagine that? The land was fertile. We grew crops, bartered and traded with neighbors for the additional things we did not produce. We created our own local economy and social service network. We were never hungry or without the basic necessities. My mother worked as a domestic for some of the local white families. She was also a teacher for the Black children in the community. To the folks in our community she was a saint because she did the “Lord’s work” of teaching a SKYLA HEARN


multi-age, multi-learning level classroom in a small room in the back of the church with little supplies. Heck, we didn’t even have desks. She would cram us all onto two benches and the floor. There were children in her class from 4-14 and you better believe we all knew our A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s, could recite and write. There’s a story I like to tell and have shared numerous times throughout my life about when I first started school in the north. Despite having not attended an official school down south before arriving in Chicago at about five years old I tested into the nearby school and landed myself into the first grade. “…when we came up to Chicago, and there we had this fine big school, the [James R.] Doolittle School, I’ll never forget it because I went into the first grade—my mother was a—she was a teacher in this one room school down South, so, because she had finished and got finished up to the eighth grade, so whoever finished the highest became a teacher. And she had taught us our ABC’s and she had taught us how to count up to 100. And so this teacher, a white teacher, she had all the kids stand up by the board and she was going to teach us how to write our ABC’s, gave us all a piece of chalk and so I took the piece of chalk and I started writing—and my mother had taught me my whole—I knew my ABC’s, so I started writing A, B, C, D, E, F, and went all the way up to M, when she stopped me, she said, “Mar024


Figure 005 Hand drawing by Skyla Hearn.

garet, you stop that. You’re being very disobedient. I told you just take them one at a time. Now, you go and sit in that corner and put that dunce cap on your head.” For many years, I couldn’t understand why I should be punished for doing something smart, you know. It was only years after when I became a teacher that I was able to understand why—that the role that many of the teachers play—the white teachers particularly played, was to discourage the black kids from their ambitions, you know, and so forth and so on. And well, that was that. So, that’s why when I became a teacher, I made it my main goal to try to teach the children to reach—reach for the skies, reach for the skies.”

As I was saying before my family owned our land in St. Rose but racism and violence forced us away from what we rightfully claimed as our own not only the land but our nurturing and loving connection with our family and community. SKYLA HEARN


The early 1900s was not good to Black folks but then again this country has never positioned itself as being “good” let alone to Blacks, Indigenous folks or anyone who isn’t affluent and white, especially the affluent white male. You Figure 006 see around 1920 or so Mae Mae Pierre, Dr. Burgreat grandmother. there were a series of roughs’s Life with Margaret: The OfAutobiography by Dr. events that changed the ficial Margaret T.G. Burroughs, pg. landscape of my family 128. splitting us up. My parents, sisters, uncles, aunts and I left St. Rose leaving the remainder of the family including my maternal grandmother that lived in Ama, a small town, across the Mississippi River who we affectionately called MaeMae. She was a full blooded Creole who spoke only French. Her father was from Martinique. There were a great deal of us then and still are that currently live there. One of my uncles who had served in World War I stopped in Chicago when he returned to the United States. He fell for the city and the opportunities it presented for education and work. He wrote to my parents to encourage them to come north to work and live. He informed them that there were plenty of jobs in the steel mills and the stockyards. And most importantly that their girls could get a better education. Despite owning their own 026


land our family endured hardship with losing a family member to the brutal and violent racist south. The menfolk “recovered” a package in the field, which we later found out was our relative, my Uncle Ike (Sr.), who had been murdered by lynching by the “night riders” the local white Klansmen. The night before his body was discovered they came to my father’s house, with all us in it, demanding that Uncle Ike, Sr. surrender himself. My father warded them off and told them he didn’t know his whereabouts. We prayed for his safety that night to no avail. Shortly thereafter my parents and other close family members secretly began preparations to move us north first by saving money then transferring our meager yet bountiful material possessions such as the land, our homes and some of our personal affects. And so it began! My family’s participation in the pilgrimage, which later became known as the Great Migration or Black Migration. The adults devised a plan to send us out of St. Figure 007 Christopher Alexander and Octavia Taylor, Dr. Burroughs’s parents. Life with Margaret: The Official Autobiography by Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs, pg. 128.

Rose in small groups starting with my sisters and aunt, then my father who immediately secured employment, and finally my



mother and I from the first group—we all traveled like this to keep suspicion down. Sometime later other family members would make their way north. I become tickled at how excited I was when I think back to the time leading up to our departure. When I caught wind of the amount of the stash, a cool one hundred dollars, I was so thrilled to learn just how “rich” we were that I ran out of the house hollering that we had “us” a hundred dollars. My mother snatched me back inside before I could say another word or breathe another breath—you know Black mammas have that ability—and gave me the whooping of my life. I learned two things that day. (1) How dangerous it was if the wrong people learned of our plans to leave to move north. And (2) to never ever tell anyone your family business. No matter how old you are you are never too young to learn that lesson! My sisters and I were adventurous children and encouraged by our mother to explore the world around us. So you can imagine that for a small child the train ride was a ball of adventure. I spent the majority of the ride crouched down by my mother’s side or in between her legs. You see I was tall for my age and the conductor would have charged full fare not understanding that I was actually a young just not small child. There were things that I saw that I didn’t understand like all of the people in our car were Black and only allowed to ride in that one car. It smelled like smoke and didn’t look at all what 028


I imagined from the days of watching it go through our town. My mother told me she would explain it all to me once we were off the train. She spoke very little during the trip. We arrived in Chicago on the Illinois Central Railroad at 12th Street/Roosevelt Road in downtown. We moved in 008 with my uncle at 31st street Figure Dr. Burroughs at 5 years and Cottage Grove Avenue old. Life with Margaret: Official Autobiography before we settled into our The by Dr. Margaret T.G. Burown flat at 35th street and roughs, pg. 128. Rhodes Avenue both places in the Bronzeville neighborhood, the first largest settlement of southern Blacks who established the first wave on the south side of Chicago during the Migration. We settled into life in Chicago quite well. My sisters and I were teased in school and in the neighborhood for how we spoke, were called “country” you know that sort of thing. But weren’t we ALL country? We weren’t bothered by it. Before we knew anything we had learned to speak “proper” and fully adapted into the northern cultural habits of our neighbors. The neighborhoods were a mixture of people who held all kinds of jobs. You may have heard this before but it was true that doctors, janitors, teachers, pimps and so on all lived in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Of course I didn’t SKYLA HEARN


know anything about the social and political structure of the city, about racism and segregation in the north and how the federal government no matter where we were maintained and executed one of their primary functions which was to attempt to damper our optimism with suppression of resources, to attempt to block us from the “good life”. My parents and other family members were hard workers who pulled together combining their own resources as they had done in the south. They prided themselves on not accepting government welfare but providing one another with the things they needed including money when times were tight. As a matter of fact, we had social service organizations right in our community that took care of the community. I suppose I learned early on that you have to take care of your own. That no other groups, especially the government, would care for you the way your community would. After elementary school I attended Englewood High school, which had become integrated with Black students after being a primarily white school. The teachers at Englewood were interested in teaching students to our overall benefit unlike a lot of other schools who had teachers like my first teacher at Doolittle that intentionally discouraged Black students. Don’t get me wrong the teachers at Englewood weren’t perfect. They had their “pets” which were usually the fairer skinned straight hair Blacks and the blond blue eyed whites. It was during this time 030


that I began to embark into the world of politics and culture learning about artists who created positive images of Black people and of Black artists that created multiple forms of art from photography to paintings to sculptures. I already considered myself an artist since childhood. Having been highly praised and encouraged by mother to draw being creative was acceptable in my family unlike other young people I knew. I read newspapers and learned about the history that the Englewood teachers wouldn’t dare mention. We took a trip to Washington, D.C. What I witnessed on that bus ride through the country the shanty towns in East St. Louis, Illinois, the bus driver tell US to sit on the back of the bus, the signs that shunned US wherever we stopped to eat and when we arrived we were met with all the places we couldn’t enter stunting the full experience of the trip we ALL were promised but only some of us were able to experience. The combination of these early experiences might be what “politicized” me. I’m not absolutely certain when all of that happened but I can surely tell you that I knew our world was in need of change. I became determined to do something about it. Did you know I was an athlete? (chuckles) Yes, indeedy I sure was. I was a tri-athlete Track and Field, volley ball and baseball. I missed the chance to complete in the 1936 Olympics by 3 or 4 inches in the high jump. How do you like that?! We used to practice in Washington Park SKYLA HEARN


at William Carter School playground. I would have joined Tidye Pickett, Louise Stokes and the few other Black women. Tidye and I were “neighbors.” That is she grew up in Chicago but in Englewood. Tidye like me later became a school teacher but in the suburbs. So much of my existence was on the south side of Chicago especially in Bronzeville that I found it almost impossible to have roots anywhere else. After I graduated from Englewood I went on to Teachers College (later became Chicago Normal College then Chicago State University) to earn my teacher’s certificate. I was interested in becoming an educator and an artist. After I earned my certificate I went on to intern and work in a classroom for a year with one of my childhood mentors, Ms. Mary Ryan, who was my sixth grade teacher. My mother and Ms. Ryan encouraged me to apply to the School of the Art Institute where I was accepted then earned my Bachelors. Then onto earn a Masters. Prior to graduating from the Art Institute along with other 032

Figure 009 Dr. Burroughs at 20 years old. Life with Margaret: The Official Autobiography by Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs, pg. 129.


Black artists living and working in the city I saw first-hand the inequalities in access to the things we needed in order to produce work in conducive environments that the Art Institute did not provide us with. The Black students barely were afforded the opportunity to learn from seasoned

Black artists or Black My First Husband & His Four (Me, being the first) professors. To address Wives chapbook cover. Personal colthis void we devel- lection of Skyla Hearn. oped our own spaces within our neighborhoods. I helped to establish salons where we would engage in critique sessions, making one another’s art stronger. These meetings took place across the city with students and practicing Black artists. It was around this time that I met my first husband, a beautiful man, named Bernard Goss at a “rent party” at George Neal’s Coach House Studio on 33 rd Michigan Avenue. He was intellectually brilliant and artistically gifted. We were hot for each other which led to us getting married. The down side is he wasn’t only hot for me. I can tell you now because I’m completely over it but he sent me “through it” as the Figure 010



old ladies used to say.

As a proud artist he adamantly declared to me early in our marriage, which was a short lived experience that he would only work as an artist. That was his calling. This declaration made it painfully clear that one of us would have to sacrifice their art making and apparently it wasn’t going to be him. So, yes, that’s right I was the bacon maker and bread winner. And guess what? While I was out working hard earning our living he was home in our bed with my best friend from high school. Some friend! Some love of my life! “I think that having obstacles makes you stronger, it makes you much stronger.”

I thought for sure that that would be the heartbreak that would break me but I made it through. I left him at our “Underground Railroad” Coach House on 43rd and Grand Boulevard Avenue while I was seven months pregnant with our first and only child together. I was devastated. Gayle, Figure 011 Margaret and Charles at Ebony Muse- our daughter, and um (later DuSable Museum), 3806 S. Michigan Avenue. Life with Margaret: I made it over the The Official Autobiography by Dr. hump. I regained Margaret T.G. Burroughs, pg. 131. 034


Figure 012 Ebony Museum (later DuSable Museum), 3806 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL. Life with Margaret: The Official Autobiography by Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs, pg. 131.

my emotional and mental strength when I moved back home with my mother and spent ample time with she and my sister. During that time I maintained my own place, a studio in Bronzeville, while attending the Art Institute at night and teaching during the day. I began to date again and eventually met and married Charles, the actual love of my life. Bernard and I eventually became friends, a relationship we maintained until his death. As a young adult during this tumultuous and incredibly fruitful time in my life I met and fostered lasting friendships with Charles White, Charles Sebree, Eldzier Cortor, Elizabeth Catlett, Gwendolyn Brooks, Gordon Parks, Theodore Ward and so many other beautiful souls… SKYLA HEARN


Sincerely Yours: On Letters To and From Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs TEMPESTT HAZEL

In November of 1971 Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs wrote a letter to the Chicago Park District asking them to consider gifting one of their unused administration buildings in Washington Park to the DuSable Museum of African American History. She and a group of artists, educators, historians, and civic leaders had founded the museum a decade earlier, in 1961, out of her and her husband, poet, curator, and educator Charles G. Burroughs’s home. According to Dr. Burroughs, no matter how they renovated it, the museum was outgrowing its building and it was time for them to find a new home that would accommodate their current work and future ambitions. Ever a poet, Dr. Burroughs was direct yet charming in her mode of address, even though this was considered official business correspondence. Given how exquisitely she told the story of the museum’s immeasurable local and national impact, how could they say anything but yes to her request? In her letter to the Park District, she wrote: We developed the DuSable Museum, an institution designed not to compete with but to complement and en036


hance the work of our schools and other educational institutions, one that would be a force for brotherhood and understanding in our city. The response from our community and our city was such as to indicate that the DuSable Museum was here to stay. Being the first indigenous museum, we became, in a sense, a pilot project and happily, on request, shared our expertise with groups in other cities. Today there is the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of African Art, Frederick Douglass Institute and Anacostia Neighborhood Museum in Washington D.C. Also, the International Museum of Negro History in Detroit, to name a few. Our influence spanned the Atlantic to Ghana where a group of Afro-Americans who live and work there, on hearing about what we were doing in Chicago, petitioned the Ghana government for, and received the use of a Fifteenth Century slave trading [sic] fort which they will develop into an international shrine and museum for the African diaspora.

In December of 1971, shortly after this letter was written, the DuSable Museum started callTEMPESTT HAZEL


ing the east end of Washington Park home.

Of course, it wasn’t this letter alone that facilitated the expansion of the DuSable Museum. This letter was one tool among the rich collective toolbox the group of founders used to build the museum. But from what I’ve read, it’s safe to say that her letters often served as both hammer and heart-balm, bringing relentless urgency, tenderness, and unrelenting insistence that everyone do better and do right by Black people and all oppressed people with whatever position or power they held. This letter also exists alongside thousands of letters that Dr. Burroughs wrote to colleagues, peers, friends, students, pen pals, and challengers throughout her lifetime, all of which live quietly nestled in archives and collections that we know and and others that we know nothing about. Many of the writings clearly demonstrate the power of the messages she penned and illuminate the less visible work that happened in the spaces around and within her roles as a mother, wife, educator, painter, sculptor, printmaker, poet, author, institution-builder, and abolitionist (as described by her former students). I’m not in a position to offer any conclusive thoughts around the ways in which correspondence has changed between then and now. I can’t speak to anything other than my own experience of how our communication behaviors have shifted with the eavesdropping or inser038


tion of an onlooker through the CC or BCC of our emails. Or to draw connections between the residuals of handwritten and typewritten correspondence that show up in how we email, text, or DM. Or how letters operate at a different pace than email—how they are slower and, in many ways, the stakes are higher as a result. Or how you have to think more deeply about your words as you write them and can’t correct or change your mind as easily without that crossing-out being visible to the receiver—or your being forced to start all over again.

What I can speak to is how reading back through Dr. Burroughs’s letters reminds me that this form of communication warrants and makes way for an exceptional kind of intimacy, consideration, and care. It offers space for the hand and the heart to be discernible, whether the words on the page are sharp or soft. While we don’t hear about it nearly as much as her art, poetry, or institution-building, Dr. Burroughs’s letters are part of her care practice and speak to a tradition of letter-writing being used to advocate for or connect to people who are far from us in thought, physical distance, or due to the isolating tactics of carceral systems.

The selection of letters you’ll find here were written to or by Dr. Burroughs between 1956 and 1996, with the majority written in the mid 1990s. This period was over a decade after the founding of the South Side Community Art TEMPESTT HAZEL


Center and after she had hit her stride as an accomplished educator, published poet and children’s book author, and nationally exhibited artist. This was a period which saw the founding of the DuSable Museum, the expansion of her teaching into prisons, the winning of a long list of awards and honorary degrees, and the passing of her husband, Charles G. Burroughs. The first of this collection of letters was sent by telegram through Western Union on December 16, 1956. It is from the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc., Mu Chapter, congratulating Dr. Burroughs on all of her accomplishments. The last letter is written by Dr. Burroughs herself on March 4, 1996, to Jim Chapman of the Prison Action Committee, expressing her willingness to meet and discuss the work that his organization was doing.



This letter of reply bookends the collection with a closing sentence that is quintessentially Dr. Burroughs, and a statement that can be extended to so many communities that she dedicated her life to: “My mission from here on in is to do what I can to help the incarcerated.” To make it more whole and true, one could easily extend that statement by following “the incarcerated” with… ...Black people, ..Black artists, ...Black cultural preservation, ...all people fighting for liberation and self-determination, ...us.

She signed countless letters with the closing “Sincerely yours.” And there’s no question that she meant each word to the depth of their definition.



Figure 013-028. The following images were taken during research sessions in 2017 and 2018 for the ongoing curatorial project “Holdings: On the Art and Influence of Dr. Margaret Burroughs.” These letters are from Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs’s papers in the archives of the DuSable Museum of African American History. Dr. Burroughs’s papers and artworks (her own work and also that of other artists she knew) are dispersed across several institutional and private collections, with a substantial amount being housed at DuSable Museum.



Figure 013



Figure 014



Figure 015



Figure 016



Figure 017



Figure 018



Figure 019



Figure 020



Figure 021



Figure 022



Figure 023



Figure 024



Figure 025



Figure 026



Figure 027



Figure 028



The Pedagogy of Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs SARAH ROSS

Debates notwithstanding, our serious black artists continue to use their art to speak for liberation, as they have done through the years. Much art in this country, however, has long resisted equality for blacks. But I say that art has an intellectual quality and if you admit that a black artist can paint, then he or she must be your intellectual equal.1 —Dr. Margaret Burroughs Almost 15 years ago I started teaching art history courses in a prison through a state-contracted community college program. At that time I knew little of the history and struggles for access to art and education in prisons. I knew more about the 1994 Crime Bill, a legislative package that locked up thousands more people, particularly Black and Brown people. The bill made many misdemeanors into felonies, made more felony charges punishable by death and allocated billions of dollars in new prison construction 1  Margaret T. G. Burroughs, Life with Margaret: The Official Autobiography (In Time Pub & Media Group, 2003).


to prepare for the anticipated filling of cages. Another part of the legislation eliminated Pell Grant2 funding which supported people in prisons to start or continue college education. Prior to the passage of the Crime Bill, there were some 350 college programs operating in prisons around the nation and prisons hosted art programs, theatre projects, concert series and more. After 1994, most colleges could (or would) not continue their educational offerings without tuition funding. Volunteers and nonprofits who extended public programming to prisons also started to diminish, perhaps because of funding, perhaps because the key that locked people behind fences and walls had turned even tighter. Yet, in Illinois, Dr. Margaret Burroughs continued to teach in prisons and jails. The particular dates of when and how Dr. Burroughs started teaching in jails and prisons is incomplete for me. How she partnered with institutions such as the Black on Black Love campaign or negotiated with prison officials to get in art supplies and have classroom space is only found in bits and pieces of documents and interviews. As early as 1971, shortly after the Attica uprising, she wrote a letter to the editor in the Chicago Defender newspaper, saying, “… we have become painfully aware of problems 2  After twenty six years, Pell Grant funding to students who are incarcerated was restored in the 2020 as part of a stimulus package spurred by COVID-19.


in our prisons. The DuSable Museum of African American History has had a program of aid to prisoners. We are presently conducting classes at Pontiac, IL State prison and we have plans to publish an anthology of poems by black prisoners in the state.”3 In a poetry book titled Black Men Speak from Behind the Walls, she writes 029 that between 1985–1986 she Figure Cover of Black Men From Behind The was also teaching creative Speak Walls, a chapbook of writing classes to women at poetry from incarcerpoets edited by Cook County Jail. In an in- ated Dr. Burroughs. Publiterview with Queen Mother cation date unknown. Helen Sinclair,4 a former Chaplain at Joliet Prison and lifelong supporter of incarcerated people, I learned that every Sunday Dr. Burroughs and the prison ministries would go to different prisons throughout the state; they organized Black History programming in February. Dr. Burroughs went into prisons and jails with the support of religious organizations, but spent her time in prison talking to incarcerated people about Black history, Black politics, art and poetry. The documents of her life and stories by people who knew her tell us that she lived fully 3  Margaret T. G. Burroughs, “For Prisoners,” Chicago Daily Defender, September 27, 1971: 13. 4  Helen Sinclair, personal interview, August 22, 2013.



at the intersections of art, poetry, education, organizing, building cultural institutions, and supporting people in prison. For each site in which she worked, the love and desire for freedom she felt for Black people, her peoFigure 030 ple, drove her. How Black Black by Dr. Burroughs, in Faheem Majeed’s 2013 instal- she integrated cultural lation for Unfurling: Five Explorations in Art, Activism, work, Black history/ and Archiving at the Gray Cen- pride, and her solidarter, Chicago, IL. Photographer, ity with people in prisSarah Ross. on created a particular kind of pedagogy that still resonates today.

During the 1990s, as access to higher education and creative opportunities were dwindling and more and more people were locked in cages, a few programs around the nation organized to fund themselves, keeping open that small, but SARAH ROSS


critical window of opportunity. At Stateville and Pontiac prisons, Dr. Margaret Burroughs taught classes by paying for supplies herself, often selling her own artworks and poetry chapbooks to raise funds. At Bedford Hills Prison in NY, Judy Clark and other incarcerated women organized friends and colleagues in New York City to raise monies and continue college education in that prison in the 1990s. For the most part, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that private funding was made available and, in some cases, the gears of the carceral machine slightly opened for artists and educators to get back into prisons and re-create art and education projects across the country. At that time, I too was teaching in prison and became part of larger conversations around what teaching in prison could or should look like. I remember the words “rigor” and “excellence” often being used to articulate the kinds of programs or classes that should be offered in prisons. I also remember talking to some established college programs who insisted that the education offered inside of prison should be the same as that offered on our freeworld college campuses. There was a frequency and insistence of this academic rhetoric that made me suspicious. While this sounded okay, my experience of teaching inside didn’t bear out that reality. Prison is not a college campus and, I would argue, should not be called one. Students on freeworld college campuses, no matter their daily 064


stresses of work, paying rent and tuition, or raising children, do not live locked in cages. Freeworld students do not eat each meal, daily, under a loaded gun, share a shower with dozens of other people, or parent their children in a tightly monitored visiting room. The prison, including the classroom in the prison, is born out of slavery (some prisons are literally situated on former slave plantations), Jim Crow laws, Truth in Sentencing laws, 1994 Crime Bill Act, gang databases, stop-and-frisk, and many other policies that make the fact of a prison classroom a paradox. These profound differences don’t make the people inside any less intellectual or creatively rigorous, nor their work less excellent. Instead, these facts mean teaching in prison necessarily has to be different.

My commitment to students in prison is more like a family commitment, and the needs of my family are paramount. This I learned through the work of Dr. Burroughs. Some of the first stories I heard about her were about her steadfast commitment to incarcerated people and the number of times she got kicked out of the prison and worked her way back in to teach. Teaching in prison with a critical attention to history and pedagogy, as Dr. Burroughs did, makes the educator, dare I say, an insurgent of sorts, always working to get over or around the mountain of restrictions. The “dangerous” tools of pencils, erasers, paint, books, articles or tracing paper in a prison mean the artist or educator must be SARAH ROSS


persistent––we always walk the line of fostering a radical imaginary and getting kicked out for having an imaginary. The pedagogy of Dr. Margaret Burroughs is a critical model for practice that does not suggest the prison is a college campus, but is rather a site of political refusal.

The first time I visited artists at Stateville prison, in 2011, they immediately started educating me on the legacy of Dr. Burroughs. I have learned so much about her persistence in getting to and in the prison every Tuesday and her radical care as an educator. What requires particular mention here is that many artists that Dr. Burroughs would have worked with (as I do now) have life or long-term sentences. When she was teaching at Stateville and Pontiac prisons, laws like Truth in Sentencing went into effect and overnight doubled the time people would spend in prison by 10, 20, or 30 years. Draconian measures allowed young people to be sentenced to death (or life without parole), and new enhance-

Figure 031 Chicago Defender, August 2, 1975. Article about Nathan Wright, a wrongfully convicted artist, who was furloughed from prison to attend his exhibition and fundraiser for his defense committee held at the South Side Community Art Center. Dr. Burroughs headed his defense committee.



ments for gun charges or certain drugs added years onto people’s sentences. By the time I started teaching at Stateville prison, I was told that most people would not leave the prison alive. Laws and policies made during the ‘tough on crime’ era had turned their prison sentences to death by incarceration.

To learn more about how Dr. Burroughs taught in prison under these conditions of despair, I would 032 normally go straight back Figure Chicago Defender, Sep27, 1971. Editoto those inside teachers— tember rial by Dr. Burroughs. the artists and poets at Stateville who were Burroughs’s students––the people serving those life and long sentences. But COVID-19 has made communicating with them a huge challenge, only done through correspondence classes, only when people living on permanent lockdown in a small prison cell have the energy to put pen to paper, only when the panic of a deadly pandemic raging within the prison allows the psychic time to do homework. I wonder what Dr. Burroughs would be doing today to continue her connection with artists and poets inside in these desperate conditions. SARAH ROSS


Over the summer of 2020, several of Dr. Burroughs’s students who had been sentenced to die in prison, walked out as free men. Some were released after 20 and 30 years of incarceration because of a Supreme Court ruling overturning cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles. Others were released because of COVID-19. I connected with them to learn more about the pedagogy of Dr. Burroughs. Sherman Morisette, Tiberius Mays, Cedric X Cal, Arkee Chaney and Carl Williams are just some of the many, many, many people Dr. Burroughs touched over the more than 25 years she taught and visited Illinois prisons. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I interviewed each of these men remotely, but I organized the interviews below in a conversational style, as if we were all together. All of these men know each other and they spent time together in Dr. Burroughs’s classes and during their decades of incarceration. I want to start with the last question I asked each person and the answer from Carl Williams because it speaks to the beautiful fruit of Dr. Burroughs’s labor and the beauty for freedom she held for each of them.



Figure 033 Dedication to Dr. Burroughs outside of the Warden’s office at Stateville Prison. Photographer, Sarah Ross.

SARAH ROSS Is there anything else I should have asked you about Dr. Burroughs? CARL WILLIAMS I think you should have asked, If she had to speak about us, what would she say? I think we were definitely a handful! But at the same time, we are what she was proud of. We are what she dreamed of and what she hoped. We are what she imagined we would become. She would always say

to us: “I didn’t come in here to judge you and to worry about what you’ve done. I wanna know the person that you are today and who you are right now. That’s what is important to me. And if you will be active in your growth, what you will become if you were released tomorrow.” SARAH When did you first meet Dr. Burroughs and what was your impression?



ARKEE CHANEY I don’t remember what year it was but it was in Stateville, I think it was the late 1980s. She came over and started a class of her own and I joined the class. CARL My first encounter with Dr. Burroughs was in Cook County Jail through Mother York [a missionary]. Mother York had come to Cook County Jail. They would hold a church service, feed you, bring you the necessities that you need. Whether it was soap, shampoo, whatever. They would give you a home cooked meal as well. I would always come because she would bring these people who would take the time to talk to you. I remember one time, Dr. Burroughs was talking to us about life. Just 070

telling us about staying in the fight but realizing that a change needs to be made in your life. There is no better time to be victorious than right now. Those types of things would just sit with me. Here was a lady that had this fire and I was like, you know, who is this person? She had this energy about her that was kind but, for me, she was a revolutionary. She was a radical. CEDRIC X CAL I first met Dr. Burroughs in 1998. I was 23 years old. They had a poetry spoken word concert that she had put together for the prison and I was able to get on the list. I got on there to meet Dr. Burroughs because I knew she had founded the DuSable Museum. So, I just wanted to see her, wanted to meet her.


SARAH How did you know about her founding the DuSable? CEDRIC Just being a student of history, being a student of Black history and trying to learn more about myself, my history, my people and their struggles. Civil Rights Movement. Black history beyond the Civil Rights Movement. Beyond our presence from the slave plantation. And she was part of the Civil Rights Movement. TIBERIUS MAYS I knew that she was the founder of the DuSable Museum because when I was in grammar school, for Black history we always studied the famous people, and she was one of the famous Black people out of Chicago that we had

studied. So, I had probably heard about her since the third or fourth grade. I first met Dr. Burroughs in prison at Pontiac. I want to say around ‘90 or ‘91. She was coming in to do art class at that time. One day I talked to her and I found out that she was the sister of my first cousin’s grandma. That’s when we started talking more. Then, at that time I hadn’t started writing—I was in college, I don’t think I thought of doing any poetry. I started writing poetry in ‘92 when I got on the newspaper [the Pontiac Pen]. Later on, when I went to Stateville in ‘98, she was doing the art classes there. She would sometimes talk about what was going on with her family. I’m not really in tune with parts of my family which is



her family. She would she teach? What was say “he’s doing this” or her style? “I heard this.” SHERMAN SHERMAN One thing I could say, MORISETTE she was, how can I say, I met Dr. Burroughs in high on writing po1995. She was this pe- ems…She had a flair tite woman. She was for everything that she such an impression on did as far as teaching me because she was arts, showing us techjust starting, that was niques of how to write, when she was just and art…We would go starting [back1] at Stat- back [to the cellhouse] eville. and try to write from or expand on the form SARAH because she would Over the years I’ve want us to bring someheard so many stories thing back to express about Dr. Burroughs ourselves before the coming to Stateville [next] class. For some with mountains of art of the guys it became a supplies and that she competition thing, who taught both art and po- could write the most–– etry. I also have heard the best poem or the stories about her de- best article. That really manding, in a loving inspired a lot of us. way, that people produce work. How did 1  There was a break in programming at Stateville and other Illinois prisons because of a statewide lockdown that lasted some six months, over the controversial video tapes released by lawyers of Richard Speck.



CARL I used to always say that I don’t draw. I’m not a drawer, and she would say, “You definitely are an artist so let me see what you got.” I’m more of a stick man type of drawer. The one thing that she said is, “Whatever you put on that paper, whether it’s stick figures or what, your art [should] be able to tell the story to you and the person who’s viewing it.” ARKEE I told her I didn’t know how to paint, and it [the painting] looked really bad to me and she would encourage me by saying, “That is really beautiful Arkee, you are doing a real good job.” Later I found out it was garbage, but I got better...She didn’t teach me how to paint, she encouraged me to

paint, she encouraged me and that was better teaching than trying to teach me. CEDRIC We had assignments every week. We had to come. Not only did you have to write, but you had to get up and perform it. And explain it. She helped us with our oratory skills. To be able to be up in front of an audience and communicate your ideas and thoughts with people, that was one of the things I learned from her class… You had brothers that was not only poets, but you had screenwriters and everything. And playwrights. All of us were doing these different works. She would come in, point each one of us out and you’d have to get up. She’d sit back, close her eyes and listen. And she would



stop you and say, “Go back, let me hear that one more time.” You’d think she’s not listening, but she got her eyes closed and she was listening to everything. Every time she came to class, I made sure I hugged her and kissed her, even though that was against prison rules. But I wanted to show her my gratitude and that was my way of showing my gratitude for her coming, for her sacrifice, for our people, and for us in prison. So, every time she came, every Tuesday when she came in, I did my poem and I’d get up and give her a hug and a kiss first. Just like she’s my grandmother. That’s how I treated her.

you look for in an essay or you’re writing a story or anything like that. She would give you how to start it, the middle, and how to end it, and that is something for a lot of us working in the law in particular. Because one’s writing skills was our communication to the courts. So, we were definitely trying to work on our writing skills to communicate with the court because that was our way of communication in trying to get out. She would give us critiques or ideas for how to break it down and how to construct things in a more––more concise manner that courts would understand and accept.

SARAH SHERMAN Did she know that you What she would do–– were working on court you had certain things work? I’ve been told 074


that we, educational volunteers, are not supposed to help with any of that, but it seems like such a critical tool people need to get a shot at freedom. SHERMAN She knew that a lot of us were working on our cases. Almost everybody there. Well, I wouldn’t say almost everybody, most of the guys would work on their legal work but they took the time, always, to come to her class every Tuesday. That was Dr. Burroughs’s day, Tuesday morning. ARKEE Another thing she did, I liked this about her, I had a big painting in my cell, and she came along––this was after I had gotten pretty good at painting––she came along with Mother Sin-

clair and a preacher. She looked in my cell and saw the painting I was doing and asked me to hold it up to see it, which I did. She said, “When you finish painting it, what are you gonna sell it for?” I said, “You wanna buy it?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, it will be up to you.” She said, “Don’t ever do that with your paintings. It’s worth money so you charge money.” I said, “Give me 75 dollars for it.” She said, “No that’s too cheap.” I said, “Well, 150.” She said, “That won’t do, that’s too cheap, too.” So, I went to 250 and she went along with me. SARAH How did she pay you for it? Back then were there private companies like JPay or GTL to accept money for



Figure 034 It’s Now, a mural on the Washington Park Fieldhouse in Chicago, designed by artists at Stateville Prison in a 2018 class led by Aaron Hughes. The design was enlarged and painted outside of the prison by community groups, including formerly incarcerated artists and parents of incarcerated children. Photographer, Sarah Ross.





people in prison? ARKEE She would write a check and send it through the mail. I would be surprised when I would get these checks. She was a globetrotter. She would go to Africa and Cuba and places like that. She would take my art, she would ask me if she could take it, to Africa and whatnot. I told her she didn’t have to ask me about anything, whatever she wanted to do with the paintings, she could do it. She took the work to Africa, Cuba, and then to young folks in schools in Chicago. She would tell all of the kids to write me a letter. I would get about 15 to 20 letters from kids in the schools who would say that when they grow up, they are gonna be an artist like me. 078

Stuff like that. I would feel pretty good about it. CEDRIC Every time she went on a trip, she’d come home and write a poem about it. She went to China a couple years before she passed away and she had come back with pictures and would write poems from her experience being there. So, we got a picture of China through her. For her to talk about how the DuSable was created out of her living room and why it was so important for our people to know themselves, to know their history, so they can know their value and work for what they are capable of doing, it was very empowering. CARL I can remember she had once given me a


book. When we used to be in class, I used to be talking about different books when it comes to African American history in America and just the shape and impact that African Americans have had on the world and in Chicago. She got this book full of the history of downtown Chicago and the journey from African Americans from Mississippi to Chicago. She had this whole history laid out. And then, at the end, when I was like “Okay, written by who?” And it was written by her! She was like, “You can learn this history through the DuSable Museum.” SARAH So many people teaching in prisons today are white people, teaching a predominately Black and Brown population. And still white wom-

en dominate the field of education at large (except in higher education). How important was it that Dr. Burroughs was a Black woman, teaching mostly Black people? CEDRIC I think it is very important. The cultural connection, being from the same ethnic background. From the same struggles. All of that was very important because she knew our condition, our mindset, our spirit, and she knew how to handle it and weave around the nonsense of stuff because she was that type of wise woman. Kinda like Mother Sinclair. They were like right hand, left hook. Mother Sinclair, she was a strict disciplinarian, but Dr. Burroughs was the loving one. The good cop, bad cop.



CARL I think it was very important. And not just for me, a lot of people don’t understand that when you see someone who looks like you, you feel like they better understand what you’ve had to endure and go through. That’s not to say that no one else does. But here was a person who understands it because she’s had to endure it. I think that sometimes just to be able to see someone else that looks like you is to know that they’ve also been given the opportunity to come in and speak on your behalf as well. SARAH I know many people have called her “mother.” And many women do perform a kind of caretaking in the classroom because it’s part of holding a space 080

where everyone can partake in the experience. One might say that supporting students like a parent supports their own children is part of teaching. When hearing stories about Dr. Burroughs’s work in prisons I felt like she was spoken of as a mother because of her radical care for people. SHERMAN Well, [pause] now that I’m out and now that I can talk to you over the phone...You know, a lot of us had problems and we needed things as far as toothbrushes or little things, like pens and paper. She would bring those things to us. She was putting herself in a position where the IDOC didn’t want her to do that––not that anything was illegal. A pen was valuable to us in there.


It could be as simple as a pen. She would do that for us––or a toothbrush in some cases. She had no problem in trying to help us or, in some cases, she might have seen someone’s family and tried to help them out. CARL She was a mother to us all. She had access to us in a way that our own mothers didn’t for the simplest things. It was times where there was a guy very emotional about something. Just for her to be able to give him a hug and say “It’s gonna be okay” was powerful in itself when he needed that from his own mother. But also, the nourishment, when it comes to their mind and their heart, and what she offered is what allowed them to see her as a mother.

ARKEE Let me tell you one thing, I came to Dr. Burroughs class and I wasn’t doing too much. I came back the next week and she came over to me and said, “I think there’s something wrong with you. What’s wrong?” And I said, “Yeah, my mother died.” She waited a minute or so and she said, “You got another mother. I’m your mother.” SARAH Were there other ways was she a mother to you? TIBERIUS Dr. Burroughs was a caring person about the people that were locked up. Obviously she came there, so she was showing that she cared through her time. She would bring newspapers. I don’t know,



she used to bring toiletries, stuff like that. She was very encouraging. She was trying to help guys keep their minds on something positive, like writing and artwork, and to stay strong. She would be encouraging like a mother would be.

SARAH Dr. Burroughs was working in prisons and jails as the crisis of mass incarceration was unfolding. From the time she wrote in the Chicago Defender, in the 1970s to when she passed in 2010, some 1.8 million more people were incarcerated. It’s clear she had a deep love and commitment for people in prison, from her writing clemency letters for people to supporting the defense committee of wrongfully convicted artist Nathan Wright. She even dedicated a chapter of her autobiography to directly speaking to incarcerated people. Did she ever talk about her feelings about incarceration in classes?

ARKEE Well, she brought a lot of paintbrushes and a lot of paint. She would bring the stuff in. She brought one canvas in that was 6 feet long and 3 feet high. That’s the one that she asked me what I was gonna sell it for when I finished. The only thing I can say about Dr. Burroughs is that you don’t find people like that, too many peoples like Dr. Burroughs. She really is concerned about people. She was really CARL concerned about pris- She used to always talk ons. about how she knew 082


there were innocent and guilty people in there. She understood all of those things. She would say, “I understand when a family only wants someone to be punished for committing a crime against their loved one.” She would say that, “I’m here to provide to you something that is much needed and to help you when it comes to being restored to what you are and what you should be. Not from what you were taught from the so-called ‘rough neighborhood.’ But the person that you truly are.” She says, “So when I peel off all of those layers I get to see this beautiful fruit and beautiful flower.” I used to be like, “I ain’t no flower.” She would say, “All of y’all are, because y’all are just a seed that needs to be

cultivated.” From my perspective, she definitely had a feeling about the prison system. She will always say that, “Listen, many of y’all they wouldn’t think twice in giving you a second chance. But I’ve met you for the first time and would give you any chance because I understand who you are. When I look in the face of you, I see you as a human being. If you think you can fool me, you’re the fool.” She always said that. “I can see who you are. I’ve had conversations with all of you.” SARAH I was just thinking, as she was doing this work, if or how much the abolition movement was visible in Chicago, and how visible it is today. And I think if she were alive



she would be part of ing to see her children. the prison abolition That’s how she’d look movement today. at us. She was coming to prison and she was TIBERIUS elated to come but also Of course she would. Of heartbroken to leave. course she would. She definitely would be a SHERMAN part of it. Because that She was an activist. is what she was a part The way she looked of back then. upon prisons was not anything that was, you CEDRIC would say, correct. BeIf she was alive right cause when someone now, she’d be part of gets to come in, they the Black Lives Matter get to see a lot of the movement. That is how injustices or how the much she felt about the law was being impleinjustice of our people mented. Now, I’m a and the prison system. Vietnam Veteran and I got a letter right now I haven’t killed anythat she wrote on my one and they gave me a behalf for my clem- life sentence. This was ency, for my wrong- something that would ful conviction, so that have never done to a is in my archive. So white man at that time. that is how much she believed in the injus- SARAH tice and inadequacies I have heard from of the prison system. many folks inside that And, she would soften she talked about leava lot. She was like a ing a legacy and would mourning mother com- ask you all to write 084


about what your legacy would be. She left an amazing legacy in the institutions she co-founded, the public markers to her like at the 31st Beach or the Washington Park Fieldhouse, and her artwork and poetry in people’s homes and archives around the city. Yet, I also know that her work in prison was less documented, despite her decades of work in prisons with incarcerated people. So, what do you think her legacy is? SHERMAN What do I think her legacy is? I think her legacy is that she was someone that was trying to inspire others for education, for growth, to have an inquisitive mind, to better themselves, to go beyond their limits of what they can accom-

plish. That’s how I saw her. But also, she was someone that would inspire you to try other things. Don’t just be red, white, and blue. Try purple, pink, and green as well. That was what she was about. CEDRIC Well, she always wanted us to write. She said, “Write.” She’d drill it in all of us. “Write it down. Write it down” [laughs]. She did a poem called “What will your legacy be?” and she made sure that everyone had a copy of that poem. She was an institution––she left us an institution behind. So, she will always be remembered. Like at the Stateville gate, they have a little homage to her when you come into the facility. That is how important she was to their prison. Because she was com-



ing for so long. She was so committed to coming to prison that she would take the train and a cab to come to Stateville every Tuesday. It was faithful. We believed her like God, we knew she was coming. On Tuesday we knew Dr. Burroughs was coming. We made sure we were ready and we always came dressed to impress. I made sure I was clean-shaven and I had my best clothes on. That is how important she was to me. She was committed and she made that sacrifice. Once she had eye surgery so she couldn’t drive, so someone had to drive her there. The beauty of one of the other brothers in the class was that once she told us how she wasn’t coming when Mother Sinclair wasn’t 086

coming, so his mother made the commitment to bring her every Tuesday. Yeah. Paul Robeson used to call her “my girl Friday.” Because she worked with him every Friday. So I thought, Paul Robeson calls you his girl Friday, then I’m going to call you–– you’re going to be our girl Tuesday [laughs].


Figure 035 Dedication to Dr. Burroughs outside of the Warden’s office at Stateville Prison in Crest Hill, IL.









Albert Kirkman

I wrote this poem because Dr. Burroughs considered us as her grandchildren. She said that the only thing that kept her alive was that she could come see us. We were her grandchildren. I felt that in my heart and I loved and respected her.


Our Grandma

Our grandma was one of a kind I would love to call Dr. Margaret Burroughs mine. But she was all ours every Tuesday, she was our girl I yearn to hear her voice. She was like a grandma every kid wished they had. Dr. Burroughs was loving caring and sharing, A gentle soul that was so beautiful the sign of her brightness when she walked into the room made us smile, it was never a bad day when she came to visit us grandma was a walking history book, sharing the stories of our ancestors from Africa and all over the world. Her ability to tell a story was incredible Her stories, poems, and paintings were epic there was no comparison to her wealth of styles I love grandma and she loved us.


Angel Bat Dawid

I took a leap of faith 6 years ago to be a musician full time and it worked! My first leap was with the MB (Margaret Burroughs) Collective, a group of BIPOC interdisciplinary artists who were meeting at Southside Community Art Center to do ritual performances and activating installations with sound text and movement. We talked extensively about Dr. Burroughs and we were just so excited to have access to that sacred over 75-year-old space that she founded. Fast forward a year or two later the Participatory Music Coalition (PMC), a kind of offshoot of MB Collective, were booked for a Night Out in the Parks performance. And it just so happened that year they were celebrating Dr. Burroughs and Gewendlyn Brooks. When I read “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?” it blew me away because it’s a question that we still have to answer. So I sat down and composed some music for the poem. What you hear on my album The Oracle was essentially me sending out the arrangement and song to members of PMC. It was a dope performance, too––we did it in Washington Park and some beautiful children in the neighborhood came through on their bikes, got on stage with us and sang the lyrics with us. I’ll never forget that wonderful summer night! And last but not least, my studio that I was in for 4 years was right next door to the Margaret Burroughs mansion just a few doors down from South Side Community Art Center. 092

I would always walk past and think of all the great people and heroes who might have entered thosed doors. One time my studio mate and I saw an opening in the fence to her backyard, so we decided we wanted to sneak back there and take a peek and maybe play some music. We knew it was trespassing, but we didn’t listen to our inner warnings. So there was this spot in the back with a piece of wood over it. I stepped on it and didn’t know that the wood was rotting and covering a 6-foot ditch which I fell into! It was pretty scary and if my friend wasn’t there it could have been a really, really bad situation. My homie and I laugh about it now, cause we felt like it was Dr. Burroughs saying, “yall ain’t supposed to be back here.”










Arkee Chaney

Dr. Burroughs means a lot to me. I had about 20–30 letters from her, but I left many behind when I was transferred from joint to joint. I held on to these materials because some had her picture and some had writing about her. I let other guys read the books and letters, but sometimes I’d forget and people would keep them. These materials kept her close to me. I wouldn’t have been an artist if it wasn’t for her. Also, something about Dr. Burroughs that really touched me... She went to South Africa, and while there someone stole her wallet out of her purse. She told us about it when she got back. Her telling us about this really touched me. It made me think. I’d stolen a lot of things when I was on the streets and I robbed people. But hearing what happened to Dr. Burroughs made me really think. When I robbed people I was robbing others. I didn’t think about it at the time but when I robbed somebody, it affected others. Those people had to pay rent, put food on the table, and take care of their kids. I did not think of this until Dr. Burroughs told us what happened to her. It was right then I decided to stop what I had been doing. I was still in prison and it looked like I’d never get out. But if I did (which I did), I’d never take anything from anyone again. Thank you, Dr. Burroughs, wherever you are in heaven. 098














Cedric X Cal

“A star in the sky of my mind” is a quote from a poem that Dr. B. wrote. She was referring to some of the people that had impacted her life and who she struggled with during the civil rights movement. That line stuck out to me because it brought to my mind how our history is written in the stars. I kept my clemency letter all these years because it is a treasured piece of history. For more than a decade I kept it because she believed so completely in my innocence after hearing my case.


A Star in the SKY

Dr. B is a star in the Sky of my mind. A blessing to humanity, a humanist artist, clairvoyant through her work. Black Lives Matter started in her living room. Dedicated an institution to black contribution to let her children know Mama Africa is calling. Giving us our mother’s tongue, love. Love yourself, know your worth, do for self, this is how legacy is built. Her humility was a virtue. There never was a bigger “I” & little “you”. Just spreading love through art that is what she do. She always said “project your voice” and “pronunciate” So there will be no misunderstandings of our history, existence and positions. Instead of pillaging nations for their resources, she traveled the seven continents (seas) giving and receiving gifts. 107

Our matriarch in art. Her star even shined in prison, a prism of restorative justice through her paint brush so society wouldn’t brush off the inequities of its unjust system. Dr. Burroughs, a Renaissance woman, a star in the sky of my mind. Rest in power. So society wouldn’t brush off the inequities Of its unjust system. Dr. Burroughs, a Renaissance woman, A star in the sky of my mind. Rest in power.





Devon Daniels

Dr. Burroughs was close to my heart because she reminded me of my own grandmother. She was pure, genuine, caring, giving, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet in your life. Plus, she was a true, true rider as well. I keep her close to my artistic practice because she was one of the main people in my life encouraging me to press on with my creative process. Dr. Burroughs gave me every tool that I needed to become the best at my craft. It’s meaningful for me to continue to represent her because she sacrificed her time to make sure we had a space [in the prison] to practice our craft. Plus, she bent the rules to ensure that we had this space to succeed at our craft. If that meant getting in a little trouble, she did it! So I will always represent her in my artwork to the fullest.







Faheem Majeed

In Margaret Burroughs I had found a muse, of sorts...a central point of focus whose positioning in the art world and history in general spoke so strongly to a broader challenge of connecting community and art. I began to explore this idea of Margaret Burroughs’s role as an artist, advocate, and institution builder. Once again seeking the balance that could capture the importance of her as a foundational element in the black arts community while simultaneously exploring the positioning of her work. A gifted artist, her core belief was that art should be accessible to the masses. Dr. Margaret Burroughs’s belief in accessible art led her to give out prints everywhere she went. Over time, her practice of freely giving away her 114

work caused people to lose sight of what was valuable––the message was the gift, rather than the actual object she handed to them. Much of her imagery focused on racial harmony and black empowerment through positive images. It was mass-produced work in later years––generated by low quality black and white printers––which people attempted to commodify. Margaret Burroughs’s original vision and intent was lost by the very practice of others attempting to place monetary value on the work. Playing on the concept of Margaret Burroughs as an institution builder and a foundational element, my work focuses on deconstructing and embedding her imagery, while also giving a playful nod to the perceptions and lack of knowledge of her work within various audiences and spaces. 115













Jan Tichy

Margaret Burroughs Garden is one of the Seven Gardens for Chicago of Artes in Horto, a public projection and online resource project from 2018. The projection is an animated composite of native plants copied from Margaret Burroughs’s linocuts. Her love of native African and American flora stands for the heritage that she preserved in Chicago. 122


Margaret Burroughs Collective

The first time we all arrived at the South Side Community Art Center, SSCAC, we heard “Welcome Home” and took off our shoes. In the SSCAC we slept, ate, argued, learned, sharpened, schemed and did way more than “try” to be an artist. The first stanza of her poem What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black reads, What shall I tell my children who are black Of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin. What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb, Of how beautiful they are when everywhere they turn. They are faced with abhorrence of everything that is black. Villains are black with black hearts. A black cow gives no milk. A black hen lays no eggs. Bad news comes bordered in black, black is evil And evil is black and devils’ food is black...

...and in this we grounded ourselves to put on display as loudly, grammatically incorrect, absurd, “every -day- we-all -live- in a planet that is in a sea of blackness” type of real. Dr. Burroughs lived the work she created and we knew then, right after her transition to Ancestry, that we didn’t have to invent something new to carry her with us. 124

Dr. Margaret Taylor-Burroughs gave us this in 1963 and again when we first met and again when she became Ancestor and again when we were on the 3rd floor at the SSCAC looking across the street at her window and again today as I send this message. Margaret T. G. Burroughs, daughter of Most High, sibling of Movement and cousin of Southern Migration Superheros.

What shall I tell my children who are Black? I shall tell them that without art, the world is eh. And when we say art we are saying her name. Margaret Burroughs Collective ensemble members are Medina Perine, Angel Elmore, Je Naè Taylor, Viktor L.Ewing-Givens, Adam Zanolini and Jonathan Lykes






Artist Statement (Written by Je Naè Taylor)

We are here. We are here filling pages with texts, Rooms with voice, Walls with frames. We are here carrying our hearts front and center, wide and free, We are present in this moment growing from the soil planted by our ancestors living in the space they toiled We declare loudly our craving Our creation, colliding our breath to continue their song We are African. We are South Siders We are Artist We are creators, engagers, Allies, friends, dreamers, Sisters, brother, We are here and we are extensions Of them all.





End Notes Cover image

Life with Margaret: The Official Autobiography by Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs, pg.131. Type

This zine was set in Times New Roman, Arial and Courier. Liberated by Love: Early Lessons Gifted from Margaret by Skyla Hearn

As the author and contributor, I have made all attempts to secure permissions for use of images sourced from Life with Margaret: The Official Autobiography by Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs. All images are cited throughout the text with information provided by Dr. Burroughs. I do not assume credit for the photographs. The publishing company is no longer in business licensed under the company name of “In Time Publishing & Media Group” who published the autobiography in 2003, which is currently out of print.

Sojourners for Justice Press

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.