Pioneering Dusable Muesum Founder Dead At 93
ALLISON KEYES, host:
Finally today, the city of Chicago has lost one of its most prolific cultural leaders. Margaret Burroughs, an artist, poet, educator and founder of cultural institutions right yesterday at the age of 95. Burrough founded the Dusable Museum of African American History nearly 50 years ago as well as the 70-year-old Southside Community Center.
President Barack Obama said in his statement that he and the first lady was saddened by Burroughs passing. He said she was admired for her contributions to American culture.
I'm joined now by Lonnie Bunch, with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Welcome to TELL ME MORE.
Mr. LONNIE BUNCH (Director, Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture): Oh, its my pleasure.
KEYES: I have to say, I have remembered that Museum from my childhood. She started it in her house. When she decided to create and find funding for it there couldn't have been much else of that going on in the country. How important was it?
Mr. BUNCH: Well, what's crucially important about Margaret Burroughs is she is part of the generation of people who basically realized that African-American culture - its art, its history needed, not only to be preserved through people's stories in passing on of tradition, but they needed to be preserved in institutions.
KEYES: I think a lot of people don't know who Margaret Burroughs is and they think of her only as a Chicago figure. Why she important nationally?
Mr. BUNCH: Well, think that first of all Margaret was just a gifted artist. Her work is in many of the great collections around the country and around the world. But also, Margaret was somebody who basically found a way to marry your Americanness(ph) with your Africanness(ph). And so she was later to in her house and later in Dusable bring together African art and African culture with the American experience and helped black Americans develop the sense of who they are. And from the national point of view, Margaret was one of the leaders in creating the African-American Museums Association, which is really an important organization that encourages and supports the preservation culture around the country, and Margaret was the leader.
KEYES: And this all started with her own personal collection of art in her home, right?
Mr. BUNCH: Yes, Margaret always told the story of how she ran into some school children and they didn't know anything about their heritage and, in fact, they were a little, you know, embarrassed, making jokes about Africa. And so she brought them into her house and said look at this artwork. Is this the artwork of a people to be embarrassed about? And from there it led her to creating what I think is one of the oldest African-American museums in the country.
KEYES: Wed be remiss if we didn't discuss her prowess as an artist in her own right.
Mr. BUNCH: What I love about Margaret is she was a gifted artist. She was a great leader. But she recognized that first and foremost the love of the culture, her desire to express it through her poetry, through her art, was really what was her great love.
KEYES: Tell me about how she was as a person. You've known her a long time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BUNCH: I first met Margaret Burroughs when I was this young curator in California in 1984. And I had just opened the big exhibition, the history of blacks in the Olympics and, you know, I thought I was pretty good. And walked into a conference and she said, so you're this Lonnie Bunch I've heard about.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BUNCH: Sit down well, sit down with me and let's see if you're any good. And she literally sort of asked me 15 questions, teased my attitude about history and culture. And I realized that in that half hour we spent together I got years worth of lessons. She was tough, she was opinionated, but it came out of a love to make sure that we all understood what it meant to be black, what it meant to be a descendent of Africa, and what it meant to be an American.
KEYES: Lonnie Bunch is director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joined us by phone to talk about the late Margaret Burroughs from the Dusable Museum in Chicago.
Mr. BUNCH: My pleasure.
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KEYES: And that's our program for today. To read my essay for this weeks Can I Just Tell You, go to our website, npr.org, click on Programs and then TELL ME MORE.
Im Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Lets talk more tomorrow.
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