Disrupters & Interlopers: Theresa Burroughs

Mrs. Theresa Burroughs was an active worker for civil rights and voting rights in the Black Belt of Alabama. Looking through news coverage and other documents describing the movement in Hale County and nearby areas, Burroughs name appears often.

Burroughs was born Theresa Turner in 1929, as the Great Depression began, in already depressed western Alabama. She married a mechanic named Kenneth Burroughs, and the couple had four children. After earning a degree in cosmetology, she became a beautician and opened her own business, Burroughs Beauty Bar.

Though she had already been leading voting rights efforts in Hale County, Burroughs’ notoriety increased in March 1965 when she was among the marchers attacked by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Three years later, in March 1968, she also hid Martin Luther King, Jr. from white supremacists in Greensboro who sought him as a target for further violence. However, her civil-rights organizing did not end in the ’60s. Due to the persistent nature of local white-supremacist resistance, it continued; Burroughs is even named as still active in Hale County in a 1983 editorial by JL Chestnut, Jr.

In the 2000s, Burroughs worked with the Rural Studio to create Greensboro, Alabama’s Safe House Black History Museum, which opened in 2009. The restored shotgun house is a memorial to the movement years, specifically to the night she sheltered King.

Theresa Burroughs passed away in Greensboro, Alabama in May 2019, at the age of 89. To learn more about her, StoryCorps has an interview with her and daughter Toni Love. Roy Hoffman’s book Alabama Afternoons: Profiles and Conversations also devotes a chapter to her.

The Disrupters & Interlopers series highlights lesser-known individuals from Southern history whose actions, though unpopular or difficult, contributed to changing the old status quo. To read previous posts, click any of the links below:

Bayard Rustin

Clement Wood

Charles Gomillion

Myles Horton

James Saxon Childers

Joan Little

Will D. Campbell

Ralph McGill

Juliette Hampton Morgan

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