Schomburg, Arturo Alfonso, 1874-1938Variant names
Schomburg was born in the town of Santurce in the Captaincy General of Puerto Rico, to Mary Joseph, a freeborn black midwife from St. Croix in the Danish West Indies, and Carlos Federico Schomburg, a merchant and son of a German immigrant to Puerto Rico.
While Schomburg was in grade school, one of his teachers claimed that black people had no history, heroes or accomplishments. Inspired to prove the teacher wrong, Schomburg determined that he would find and document the accomplishments of Africans on their own continent and in the diaspora.
Schomburg was educated at San Juan's Instituto Popular, where he learned commercial printing. At St. Thomas College on the island of St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies, where he studied Negro literature.
Puerto Rico independence advocate Schomburg immigrated to New York City on April 17, 1891, and settled in the Harlem section of Manhattan. He settled into a Puerto Rican enclave of a Cuban area, which was known for its nationalist intellectuals and politically radical cigar workers. He continued his studies to untangle the African thread of history in the fabric of the Americas. After experiencing racial discrimination in the US, he began calling himself "Afroborinqueño" which means "Afro-Puerto Rican". He became a member of the "Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico" and became an active advocate of Puerto Rico's and Cuba's independence from Spain. In 1892, Schomburg co-founded Las Dos Antillas (The Two Islands), a political club that advocated for the independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico. The club existed from 1892 to 1898, and members discussed issues such as providing weapons, medical supplies, and financial aid to independence movements.
On June 30, 1895, Schomburg married Elizabeth Hatcher of Staunton, Virginia. She had come to New York as part of a wave of migration from the South that would increase in the 20th century and be known as the Great Migration. They had three sons: Máximo Gómez (he was named after the Dominican military leader of the Cuban struggle for independence); Arthur Alfonso, Jr. and Kingsley Guarionex Schomburg (his middle name was the name of a renowned Taíno Indian cacique).
After Elizabeth died in 1900, Schomburg married Elizabeth Morrow Taylor of Williamsburg, a village in Rockingham County, North Carolina. They were married on March 17, 1902, and had two sons: Reginald Stanton and Nathaniel José Schomburg. After Elizabeth Morrow Taylor's death he married Elizabeth Green with whom he had three more children.
In 1896, Schomburg began teaching Spanish in New York. From 1901 to 1906 Schomburg was employed as messenger and clerk in the law firm of Pryor, Mellis and Harris, New York City. In 1906, he began working for the Bankers Trust Company. Later, he became a supervisor of the Caribbean and Latin American Mail Section, and held that until he left in 1929.
While supporting himself and his family, Schomburg began his intellectual work of writing about Caribbean and African-American history. His first known article, "Is Hayti Decadent?", was published in 1904 in The Unique Advertiser. In 1909 he wrote Placido, a Cuban Martyr, a short pamphlet about the poet and independence fighter Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés.
Following dental surgery, Schomburg became ill and died in Madison Park Hospital in Brooklyn New York, on June 10, 1938. He is buried in the Locust Grove section of Cypress Hills Cemetery.
By the 1920s Schomburg had amassed a collection which consisted of artworks, manuscripts, rare books, slave narratives and other artifacts of Black history. In 1926 the New York Public Library purchased his collection for $10,000 with the help of a grant from the Carnegie Corporation. The collection formed the cornerstone of the Library's Division of Negro History at its 135th Street Branch in Harlem. The library appointed Schomburg curator of the collection, which was named in his honor: the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Schomburg used his proceeds from the sale to fund travel to Spain, France, Germany and England, to seek out more pieces of black history to add to the collection. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante named Schomburg on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
In 2020, the United States Postal Service featured Schomburg on a postage stamp as part of the series on the Harlem Renaissance.
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg's work served as an inspiration to Puerto Ricans, Latinos and Afro-Americans alike. The power of knowing about the great contribution that Afro-Latin Americans and Afro-Americans have made to society, helped continuing work and future generations in the Civil rights movement.
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|African Americans--Societies, etc|
|American literature--African American authors|
|African American librarians|
|Public libraries--New York (State)--New York|
|Young Men's Christian associations--United States|
|African American arts|
|African Americans and libraries|
|Young Men's Christian associations|
|African Americans and libraries--New York (State)--New York|
|Associations, institutions, etc--African American membership|
|African American authors|