Schomburg, Arturo Alfonso (1874–1938)

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Schomburg, Arturo Alfonso (1874–1938)

Bibliophile, curator, Pan-Africanist, black nationalist, and vindicationist historian.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a Puerto Rican of African ancestry. He was born in San Juan on January 24, 1874, to Mary Joseph, from Saint Croix, and Federico Schomburg, a German-born merchant who lived in San Juan. As a primary school student in Puerto Rico, Schomburg was exposed to racial and class prejudice when his fifth grade teacher told the young Schomburg that black people had no history. The teacher's remark sparked Schomburg's intellectual curiosity, which eventually led him to document the experience of the African Diaspora around the world.

In April 17, 1891, Schomburg arrived in New York, where he joined the Hispanic Caribbean community by serving as secretary of the Las Dos Antillas, an organization that fought for the independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico. He married Elizabeth "Bessie" Hatcher of Staunton, Virginia, in 1895; they had three sons. After Bessie Schomburg died in 1900, Schomburg married Elizabeth Morrow Taylor in 1902. She died early, leaving two young sons. In 1914 Schomburg took a third wife, Elizabeth Green. They had three children.

While living in Harlem, Schomburg strengthened his ties with the African American and Afro-Caribbean communities. He joined the Prince Hall Lodge, becoming the master of the lodge in 1911 and the grand secretary of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York in 1918. As a key contributor to the Harlem Renaissance, Schomburg became friends of Alain Locke and Langston Hughes. Schomburg's civic and intellectual life was driven by his mission to teach, enlighten, and instruct black people about their own history and achievements. He embarked on the task of collecting books, artworks, manuscripts, rare books, slave narratives, and other artifacts of black history. He wrote numerous articles and essays. His essay "The Negro Digs Up His Past," which was published in the Survey Graphic of Harlem in March 1925, influenced thousands of students and scholars, including the noted historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke, who sought out Schomburg to further his studies in African history. During 1931 and 1932 Schomburg served as curator of the Negro Collection at the library of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Schomburg's personal collection consisted of artworks, manuscripts, rare books, slave narratives, and other documents. The New York Public Library regarded Schomburg's collection so highly that the Library managed to acquire it through the Carnegie Corporation for $10,000. The collection became the cornerstone of the Library's Division of Negro History's branch at 135th Street in Harlem. In 1940 the branch was renamed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Following a dental surgery, Schomburg became ill and died in Madison Park Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, on June 10, 1938; he was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. Schomburg is regarded as a pioneer of African Diaspora studies and a leading advocate of Black Nationalism.

See alsoHispanics in the United States .


Asukile, Thabiti. "Arthur Alfonso Schomburg (1874–1938): Embracing Black Motherhood Experience in Love of Black Peoples." Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 30, no. 2 (2006): 69-97.

Piñeiro de Rivera, Flor. Arturo Schomburg, un puertorri-queño descubre el legado histórico del negro: Sus escritos anotados y apéndices. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, 1989.

Sinnette, Elinor Des Verney. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, Black Bibliophile and Collector: A Biography. New York: New York Public Library, 1989.

                                       Milagros Denis

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Schomburg, Arturo Alfonso (1874–1938)

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