Selections from Carline Strong

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Selections from Carline Strong, Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs: Educator, Artist, Author, Founder, and Civic Leader (Ph.D. diss., Loyola, 1994).

Reflections on Black Art During the Sixties

  • The Article begins with a profile of Black Art in the Sixties, particularly how black individuals weaponized art.
  • The idea is that by establishing oneself outside the social norm through art, dress, and even hair style one shows himself to be an individual which is seen as power.
  • The general opinion of the author cannot help to be shown through, which lacks a real articulation, calling some art "just plain bad."
  • What is important is that the artist became a kind of spokesperson for the feelings of black community and the establishment of "black is beautiful"
  • The Public Art Movement, founded in Chicago by Bill Walker, was particularly important; including many artists who felt that any surface became fair game, and every form of paint and means of painting was also fair game. For Walker it was outdoor walls that were the his medium for his messages and feelings beginning with "The Wall of Respect"
  • The new flamboyant art of the sixties was heavily frowned upon by the classic institutions that were training the founders of the new art movements, such as the Art Institute of Chicago. "Social Significance" became a scornful adjective for art.
  • As a consequence of the sixties' artistic experimentation and social consciousness a debate arose as to what the black aesthetic is and what black art actually is. According to Burroughs, the sixties saw detractors, hangers-on and hustlers passing off monstrous works of art as "Black Art." This would naturally lead to invested black Artists waging a debate as to what Black Art actually is.
  • Burroughs goes on to claim that now American Art has become a question of whether or not it will sell rather than based on artistic merit. She claims that black artists are providing a much needed shot in the arm to the American artists.

Burroughs as the Visual Artist

  • Margaret Burroughs started drawing at a very early age, in Elementary School in Chicago under Miss Mary Ryan who taught art in addition to the traditional subjects
  • Burroughs' artistic development would be life long journey, she believed that being an artist comes from an innate desire to be an artist, not simply chosen.

 The Writer/Artist

  • Her writing began in the same place as her artistic journey, in Miss Ryan's class
  • Burroughs got her the idea for her first book, Jasper, The Drumin' Boy, from a convention for individuals interested in folklore, intrigued by the rhyme that was repeated over and over.
  • She began her research by compiling rhymes that children enjoyed compiling at playgrounds or wherever she could; then she would categorize them: Call and Responses; group games or play parties; doorstep chants and rhythms; jump rope rhymes and street rhymes and bounce wall games.
  • The book represents, according to Burroughs, a variety of cultures making the book a representation of a total world culture. (I do wonder, however, if she took into account the segregation based on neighborhoods, does this book represent a total world culture or is it a comprehensive examination of Chicago's extensive number of cultures?)
  • In 1968, Burroughs published her most famous poem What do I Tell My Children Who Are Black? The poem was written for the 1963 Emancipation Proclamation Centennial Celebration and was asked to give a presentation at Doolittle Elementary School. The poem brought the assembled audience to tears
  • Mrs. Brooks, another child author, was consulted about the title, Burroughs wanted to make sure that the title was unique and not a plagiarism. However, after the poem became famous Mrs. Brooks accused Burroughs of stealing the title, producing a sizable rift.
  • What follows the recount of this episode is the poem, however notes for that will be reproduced else where as it was assigned in a separate pdf.
  • The poems intent was to teach black children black history and culture. Since its debut it was been translated into several languages to be transmitted to Africa, West Indies, South America, Europe, and the U.S.S.R. More importantly, the poem strives to offset any negative notions the children may encounter with help from parents.
  • The poem was included in a new book called "What Should I Tell My Children?" which includes "What Should I Tell My Children Who are White" and many others. This was a response to the responses to her original poem. (Here I feel the writer fails, she does not explore the responses to the poem and so leaves me with a sense of incompleteness as regard to the motivations for producing the new book).
  • In 1991, Senator Paul Simon officially inducted the poem into the Congressional Record.
  •  Burroughs' next major publication was Africa, My Africa and What Shall I Tell My Children: An Addendum with a Letter from Ruwa Chiri. (Why the Addendum?). Published by the DuSable Museum.
  • Burroughs began participating in the Black Arts in literature in Chicago, her poems appearing alongside other prominent black writers involved in the Organization of Black American Culture. Although she never received the attention given to that particular authors instead was seen as a writer with a keen sense of the "multi-dimensions of Afro-American Culture."  
  • During the sixties she joined many black artists and chose literature with which to become an activist. While not participating in confrontational protests, she did contribute. She wrote to youth to instill a sense of self-identity
  • She wrote her volumes on Black accomplishments, especially freedom fighters, to provide a sense of worth to black culture and to draw the younger black people out and to get them involved.
  • Her poem "Brother Freedom" appeared in the anthology For Malcolm where she praises Malcolm X, representing him as a unrealized Christ figure, written in a style indicative of her other works.
  • Burroughs' work is more prose then poetry, the idea being that prose can properly produce a feeling of oppression that blacks feel, while at the same time conveying pride at their history.
  • Burroughs' developing work follows the author's theory of the weaponization of art in the sixties because after Burroughs' contribute of "Who are Black" she turned her poetry into a weapon for declaring her political tenants, particularly the liberation of all mankind.
  • Her work grew with the addition of education and experience; teaching at the Art Institute and holding an internship at the Field Museum as well as traveling to Africa. This last experience contributed directly to her work Africa My Africa.
  • After the Sixties, Burroughs continued to edited and promote publication of a number of works such as Black Men Speak From Behind the Walls, a compilation of works of residents of correctional facilitates; first female residents and then male residents.
  • Burroughs continues to be a prolific writer, conceding that while not as talented as Mrs. Brooks Burroughs enjoys her writing.
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