Margaret T.G. Burroughs and black public history in Cold War Chicago
"IN THE 1950s we noticed, there was a group of us, teachers and people who were interested in black history." This was how the late teacher, artist, poet, and activist Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs recalled her role in what would become Chicago's DuSable Museum of African American history, originally established in 1961 as the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art. (1) Burroughs had also been a founder of the South Side Community Arts Center, located across the street on South Michigan Avenue, a Works Progress Administration sponsored institution that continued after the New Deal (and continues today) to foster a vibrant arts community on Chicago's South Side. Both institutions figured prominently in the memory of this icon of twentieth- century Chicago arts and culture, as she was the last living founder of each. (2) How best can we understand such a black public history project and the efforts that went into its realization at both the height of civil rights insurgencies and the Cold War?
This question is posed in light of a flourishing of recent scholarship about Northern civil rights, Cold War politics, Black Arts/Power, and liberation movement studies, as well as local Chicago political and cultural history. (3) The following essay will examine texts (including institutional histories, oral and written autobiography, archival manuscripts, newspapers and magazine articles) that pertain to how Burroughs and her cohort imagined and eventually founded the Ebony/DuSable Museum, the first major independent black museum of its kind to be established in the US. (4) It will also consider how their engagement with parallel public history efforts in Chicago constituted an important intervention into discussions concerning the politics of representing African American history and cultural heritage in the public sphere from the early Cold War to the 1960s.
THE EBONY MUSEUM'S first physical locations and the backgrounds of other museum founders underscore how such heritage projects enabled the survival and persistent activity of an interracial group of cultural and labor activists from the 1940s through the 1960s. Burroughs first exhibited materials on African American history in a mansion on South Parkway (formerly Grand Boulevard now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) which she and her first husband, artist Bernard Goss, rented and used to display their artwork in the 1940s. (5) In 1959, she and her second husband, Charles Burroughs, bought a coach house mansion at 3806 South Michigan from the Quincy Club, a group of retired black railway workers and Pullman Porters who had owned the house since 1937 [see figure 1]. (6) One of the Quincy Club members, a migrant from Missouri named Ralph Turner remained centrally involved as a founder and lecturer for the museum when it became a prominent South Side institution during the mid-1960s and 1970s. The founding group also included librarian Marian Hadley, a retired postal worker and the museum's first president Gerard N. Lew, United Auto Worker and later Oxford University student fellow, Wilberforce Jones, and Eugene Feldman. Feldman was a Jewish American raised in the Midwest...