This January Term, I am teaching a class titled “Queer Bronzeville: Intersectional Identities in 20th Century Black Chicago” which I was inspired to develop because of the OutHistory.org exhibit on Queer Bronzeville by Tristan Cabello, who is working on a book based on this research. We are almost at the end of the term and are spending five days in Chicago. The first full day here was incredible, capped as it was by listening to black same gender loving people in the community tell their diverse stories.
We started the day at The DuSable Museum of African American History. While it is not as updated or large as Detroit’s Charles H. Wright African American Museum or the Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, or as focused and extensive as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It had a wonderful new exhibit that highlighted the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a group of Afro-Centric Chicago musicians in the mid-20th century (see pics below). But what I wanted to share with you today was a poem tucked downstairs in a corner by the co-founder of the museum, Dr. Margaret Burroughs (1915-2010). Her PhD was in Art History and she was a practicing artist and a poet. Her most famous poem is “What Shall I Tell My Children Who are Black?” Here she is reading it shortly before her death:
And here is the poem I wanted to bring to your attention. As I just saw it today and it was a day filled to the brim with activities, I have no more information for you than this. There was no placard next to the poem to identify the date or context of its writing. (I will note that I was disappointed to spot many typos on the DuSable exhibit descriptions and found a distinct lack of information accompanying some of the items in the exhibits, like this poem.)
Transcript of poem:
My questions: When was this written? When she go to Moscow? Was she treated like most of the other black Americans who went (i.e., like a minor-celebrity)? Is the academic work on her as sparse as Wikipedia claims (forgive me for resorting to that page)? And is this about same-gender love (it can be that, even while we acknowledge that her co-founder was her husband)?
And let’s all “intellectualize vodka” together one day!!
Here are some photos from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians exhibit. There was no label for the paintings, so I don’t know the artist or the date. The medium was beautiful–paint, collage, maybe even marker.
Updated after Keisha’s comment below:
The museum exhibited four of her poems. Here is one of the others:permission.