Master of colors and canvas

In 1962, the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art, which was the original name of The DuSable Museum of African American History, ran an ad in the Chicago Defender that captured my young mind. I was a soldier stationed at Fort Sheridan, and although I read everything "black" I could get my hands on, there was no one I could talk to who had any interest in the serious intellectual, economic, political and cultural development of African-Americans.

At the first opportunity, I found myself at the museum's door seeking to know more about this organization and its founder, Margaret G.T. Burroughs. At that time the museum was located in her and her husband Charles "Charlie" Burroughs' home on South Michigan Avenue. She, her husband and the museum's curator Eugene Feldman received me with open arms and offered me support and guidance. Between 1962 and 1966, I was a volunteer in the early stages of building the DuSable Museum, and Margaret Burroughs became a mentor to me. Her wisdom and insight kept me sane and culturally grounded.

She was the unchallenged institution builder of Chicago. Not only was she a founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History, she was also instrumental in the creation of the South Side Community Arts Center and the National Conference of Artists, which recently celebrated 50 years of existence.

Margaret Burroughs was a world-class visual artist, a writer and thinker with immense extraordinary talent who mentored thousands of artists, writers, social justice workers and others throughout her long life. She will be missed.

I dedicated the following poem at a tribute for Burroughs at The Art Institute of Chicago last month. She died Nov. 21 at her Bronzeville home.

how did we arrive?

mothers as artists and seers

as earth toilers, sun consumers

workers at midnight and dawn

nurtured us with apples, bananas, open hearts, seeds,

cultural language, illustration and institutions.

lovingly cut the umbilical cord,

not the commitment or sacred findings.

you with the brushes, canvas, paint, tools and ideas

with African hair, mind and memory

instigated an uprising to change the conversation

quickening our run toward saneness, smiles and fear

out-pacing a leadership who moves

like roaches with alzheimers.


we, on jet powered roller skates

still eat your dust

still are wondrous of the measure

of your gifts.

Haki R. Madhubuti is the Ida B. Wells-Barnett professor at DePaul University and the founder and publisher of Third World Press.