Schomburg, Arturo Alfonso, 1874-1938

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Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (January 24, 1874 – June 10, 1938), was a historian, writer, collector, and activist. Schomburg was a Puerto Rican of African and German descent. He moved to the United States in 1891, where he researched and raised awareness of the great contributions that Afro-Latin Americans and African Americans have made to society. He was an important intellectual figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Over the years, he collected literature, art, slave narratives, and other materials of African history, which were purchased to become the basis of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, named in his honor, at the New York Public Library (NYPL) branch in Harlem.

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.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Allen, James E. (James Egert), 1896-1980. James Egert Allen collection, 1938-1975. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Greener, Richard Theodore, 1884-1922. Richard T. Greener papers, 1870-1918. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Williamson, Harry A. (Harry Albro), 1875-1965. Harry A. Williamson papers, 1831-1965. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Schomburg, Arthur Alfonso, 1874-1938. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg collection, 1920-1938, 1985-1993. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn James Weldon Johnson and Grace Nail Johnson papers, circa 1850-2005, 1900-1976 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture records, 1924-1979. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Schomburg, Arturo Alfonso, 1874-1938. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
referencedIn Joseph Family documents : St. Croix, Virgin Islands, 1835-1862. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Bearden, Romare, 1911-1988. Small collections in the James Weldon Johnson collection, 1850-1976. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Schomburg, Arturo Alfonso, 1874-1938. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
creatorOf Williamson, Harry A. (Harry Albro), 1875-1965. Harry A. Williamson papers : additions, 1881-1962. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Johnson, James Weldon, 1871-1938. James Weldon Johnson and Grace Nail Johnson papers, circa 1850-2005 (bulk 1900-1976). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Horace Mann Bond Papers, 1830-1979, 1926-1972 Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries
creatorOf Bruce, John Edward, 1856-1924. John Edward Bruce papers, 1872-1927. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf List showing the theatres and plays in various European cities where Ira Aldridge, the African Roscius acted during the years 1824-1867/ compiled by Arthur A. Schomburg, 193? The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Wendell, Bruce. Bruce Wendell papers, 1936-1937. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture records, 1924-1979 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Clipppings : Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 1978,1989-91. Temple University, Blockson Afro-American History Collection
referencedIn John Edward Bruce papers, 1872-1927 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn New York Public Library. Schomburg Committee of the Trustees of New York Public Library collection, 1925-1940. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn McKay, Claude, 1890-1948. Claude McKay letters and manuscripts 1915-1952. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Schomburg, Arthur Alfonso, 1874-1938. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg papers, 1724-1938 (bulk 1904-1938) Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Las Dos Antillas Political Club minutes, 1892-1898 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn W.E.B. Du Bois papers, 1906-1966, 1942-1948 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Schomburg Committee of the Trustees of New York Public Library collection, 1925-1940 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn McKay, Claude, 1890-1948. Claude McKay letter to Yasuichi Hikida, 1934 April 2. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
referencedIn Richard T. Greener papers, 1870-1918 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. [A collection of printed material pertaining to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library]. New-York Historical Society
referencedIn Wuttge, Frank, Jr., 1901-1985. Frank Wuttge Jr. research files, 1972-1979. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963. W.E.B. Du Bois papers, 1906-1966, 1942-1948 (bulk). Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Arthur Alfonso Schomburg papers, 1724-1938, 1904-1938 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Claude McKay letters and manuscripts, 1915-1952 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Carrington, C. Glenn, 1904-1975. C. Glenn Carrington papers, 1923-1965. Emory University Library, Special Collect Department
referencedIn Small Collections in the James Weldon Johnson collection, 1850-1976 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Aldridge, Ira Frederick, -1867 person
associatedWith Allen, James E. (James Egert), 1896-1980. person
associatedWith Bond, Horace Mann, 1904-1972 person
associatedWith Bruce, John Edward. person
associatedWith Buckmaster, Henrietta person
associatedWith Carrington, C. Glenn, 1904-1975. person
associatedWith Crummell, Alexander, 1819-1898 person
associatedWith Cunard, Nancy, 1896-1965 person
associatedWith Dos Antillas Political Club (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963. person
associatedWith Greener, Richard Theodore, 1844-1922 person
associatedWith Guillén, Nicolás, 1902-1989. person
associatedWith Handy, W. C. (William Christopher), 1873-1958. person
associatedWith Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967. person
associatedWith Johnson, Charles Spurgeon, 1893-1956. person
associatedWith Johnson, James Weldon, 1871-1938. person
associatedWith Locke, Alain LeRoy, 1886-1954. person
associatedWith McKay, Claude, 1890-1948. person
associatedWith New York Public Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Rogers, J. A. (Joel Augustus), 1880-1966. person
associatedWith Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. corporateBody
associatedWith Smith, Albert A. (Albert Alexander), 1896-1940. person
associatedWith Urban League of Greater New York. corporateBody
associatedWith Vincent, Sténio, 1874-1959. person
associatedWith Wendell, Bruce. person
associatedWith White, Walter Francis, 1893-1955. person
associatedWith Williamson, Harry A. (Harry Albro), 1875-1965. person
associatedWith Woodson, Carter Godwin, 1875-1950. person
associatedWith Wuttge, Frank, Jr., 1901-1985. person
associatedWith YMCA of the USA. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Harlem NY US
Puerto Rico 00 PR
Brooklyn NY US
Subject
African Americans--Societies, etc
Historians--Biography
American literature--African American authors
African American librarians
Puerto Ricans--Biography
Actors, Black
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
Librarians--Biography
Black author
Public libraries
African Americans and libraries--New York (State)--New York
African Americans--History
Associations, institutions, etc--African American membership
African American authors
Book collectors
Book collectors--Biography
Occupation
Collector
Writer
Activist
Historian
Function

Person

Birth 1874-01-24

Death 1938-06-08

Male

Puerto Ricans,

African Americans,

Americans

Spanish; Castilian,

English

Information

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