Hutson, Jean (1914–1998)

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Hutson, Jean (1914–1998)

American library administrator and curator who was chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Born Jean Blackwell on September 4, 1914, in Sommerfield, Florida; died on February 4, 1998, in New York City; only child of Paul O. (a farmer) and Sarah (Myers) Blackwell (a school teacher); graduated from Douglass High School, Baltimore, Maryland, 1931; attended the University of Michigan; Barnard College, B.A., 1935; Columbia University School of Library Science, M.A., 1936; married Andy Razaf (a lyricist), in 1939 (divorced 1947); married John Hutson (a librarian), in 1950 (died 1957); children: (second marriage) one daughter, Jean Frances (d. 1992).

Jean Hutson was born in 1914 in Sommerfield, Florida, a small town south of Jacksonville. At age four, she and her mother moved to her grandmother's home in Baltimore, where she received her education. Her father remained in Florida to attend his business but made frequent visits to see his family. Through a babysitter who ran a boardinghouse in Baltimore, Hutson met poet Langston Hughes. The two would maintain a lifelong friendship; he called her "baby sister." It was Hughes who introduced her to many of the leading artists and writers of the time when she journeyed to Harlem as a young girl.

Hutson was class valedictorian at Douglass High School in Baltimore, then attended the University of Michigan. After three years, she transferred to Barnard, where in 1935 she became the second black woman to graduate, the first being Zora Neale Hurston . Hutson went on to receive a degree in library science from Columbia.

She returned home but was denied a job at the public library in Baltimore, because there were no more positions for blacks. She then went to New York, where she was hired as a librarian in the New York City Public Branch Library system. In 1939, Hutson married Andy Razaf, a lyricist who wrote songs for Fats Waller, but the marriage ended in divorce eight years later. (In 1950, she would marry a fellow librarian John Hutson, with whom she would have a daughter, Jean Frances Hutson .)

In 1948, Hutson became curator of the Schomburg Collection, named in honor of Arthur Schomburg, a Puerto Rican scholar of African descent who had donated his vast collection of books and documents to the New York Public Library. In 1972, after the Schomburg Collection was renamed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York Public Library), Hutson became chief, a position she held until 1980. Under her strong and capable direction, the library grew from 15,000 to 75,000 volumes and became an internationally recognized center for African-American research and scholarship.

During the integrationist movement of the 1940s and early 1950s, when the need for a separate archive devoted to the black experience was questioned, Hutson staunchly defended the library, and during times of budget crises, she fought to keep it operational, even lobbying the state legislature for funds. She expanded the library's collection of African art by acquiring

paintings by African-American artists and was instrumental in persuading her childhood friend Langston Hughes to donate his papers to the center. Under her administration, the library published its Dictionary Catalog of the Schomburg Collection (1962, with supplements in 1967 and 1972), which brought the library worldwide recognition. During her final years with the Schomburg, she was active in fundraising for a new library building, which, to her great pleasure, was under construction by the time of her retirement.

Despite her personal contributions to the Schomburg, Hutson credited much of the library's increasing growth and popularity to the turbulent 1960s. "Of course the Civil Rights movements in the United States and the success of the independence movements in Africa and the Caribbean were the powerful stimulants which brought about the identification of Black Americans with their African heritage and caused the terrific surge of interest in Black Studies. The Schomburg has been in the center of these surging tides."

Hutson lived in Harlem for most of her career and was active in the community, serving on numerous local boards, including the Manhattan Advisory Council of New York and the Urban League. She was also active with the American Library Association, the NAACP, and the National Urban League Guild. After her retirement, she remained in New York City and continued to lecture and consult. Jean Hutson died at Harlem Hospital in 1998, age 83.


Igus, Toyomi, ed. Great Women in the Struggle. NJ: Just Us Books, 1991.

Obituary. The Day [New London, Connecticut]. February 2, 1998.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Hutson, Jean (1914–1998)

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