Naming the 31st Street Harbor for the late Margaret Taylor Burroughs should be a done deal.
Burroughs, who died in 2010 at the age of 93, co-founded the DuSable Museum of African-American History and was known internationally for her art and poetry. She also helped establish the South Side Community Art Center, which brought renowned African-American artists to Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
Burroughs used her creative talents in so many arenas — including at Cook County Jail, where she taught poetry to female inmates — it is impossible to define her.
And as if her many cultural pursuits didn’t keep her busy enough, Burroughs served as a Chicago Park District commissioner for 25 years. If that kind of cultural imprint isn’t worthy of a public monument, then I don’t know what is.
But it has been nearly three years since U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., proposed the idea to the Chicago Park District officials, and two years since the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board agreed, and absolutely nothing has happened.
The editorial board even gave the city an out, adding: “If somebody can give us a compelling reason for not doing so, then Chicago should name something else for Burroughs — something of equal or greater presence and permanence.”
On Monday morning, Rush convened a group of African-American activists to give the campaign a push. Peggy Montes, founder of the Bronzeville Children’s Museum, and Conrad Worrill, director of the Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, agreed to serve as co-chairs of the renewed effort.
“We’re going to include community activists and religious groups. It will be a much more broadly based initiative. We want to get this done soon, and very soon,” Rush said.
The Chicago Park District issued this statement: “Over the last several months, the Chicago Park District has identified a number of park locations to be considered to rename and dedicate to the late Dr. Margaret Burroughs. We have come very close to a recommendation that will be presented for public input in the near future.”
Ironically, an incident that occurred at the 31st Street beach sparked the city’s worst race riot.
The unrest began when a white man threw rocks at black youngsters who had violated the invisible line that separated whites from blacks. One boy drowned. When it was over, 23 blacks and 15 whites had been killed and more than 500 people were injured.
“To honor a black woman of this iconic status by naming the 31st Street Harbor for her could call for ancestral healing,” Worrill said.
“Black people and white people lost their lives as a result of the events that emerged from 31st Street Beach. This is also an opportunity to have a really educational campaign about a legendary black woman who not only had a great impact in Chicago, but internationally,” he said.
As famous as she became, Burroughs never traded her Bronzeville home for a home in Harlem, or Ghana or Paris. Until her death, Burroughs stayed rooted in the heart of the South Side and encouraged other prominent blacks to do the same.
Obviously, this project could benefit from a social media campaign and online petition drive, and Rush’s team should definitely include young activists to undertake this task
But frankly, political and civic activists shouldn’t have to put on a dog and pony show to make this happen. Margaret Taylor Burroughs lived a life large enough to warrant the honor.