Wednesday, September 5, 2012 African-American History: 'Arturo Alfonso Schomburg: Preserving the Past'

The Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library is one of the first institutions which came to our attention when we began building a website on Composers and Musicians of African Descent.  Femi Lewis has written an article on the namesake of the Schomburg Center, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg: African-American History
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg: Preserving the Past

Femi Lewis, Guide

Afro-Puerto Rican historian, writer and activist Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance, collecting literature, art and other artifacts pertaining to people of African descent. His collections were purchased by the New York Public Library and today, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the most prominent research libraries focused on the African diaspora.

Key Details
  • Birth date: January 24, 1874
  • Parents: Maria Josefa and Carlos Federico Schomburg
  • Spouse: Elizabeth Hatcher d. 1900; Elizabeth Morrow Taylor
  • Children: Arthur Alfonso Jr., Maximo Gomez, Kingsley Guarionex, Reginald Stanton and Nathaniel Jose.
  • Death: June 8, 1938
Early Life and Education
As a child, Schomburg was told by one of his teachers that people of African descent had no history and no achievements. This teacher's words would inspire Schomburg to dedicate the rest of his life to discovering the important accomplishments of people of African descent. Later, Schomburg attended Instituto Popular where he studied commercial printing and later, at St. Thomas College, Schomburg studied Africana Literature.

Migration to the Main Land
In 1891, Schomburg came to New York City where he became an activist with the Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico, playing an integral role in fighting for Puerto Rico and Cuba's independence from Spain. Living in Harlem, Schomburg coined the term "afroborinqueno" to celebrate his heritage as a Latino of African descent.
To support his family, Schomburg worked a variety of jobs--teaching spanish, working as a messenger and clerk in a law firm. However, his passion was identifying artifacts that disproved the notion that people of African descent had no history or achievements. Schomburg's first article, "Is Hayti Decadent?" appeared in a 1904 issue of The Unique Advertiser.  In 1909, Schomburg wrote a profile on the poet and independence fighter, Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdez entitled Placido a Cuban Martyr.

An Esteemed Historian
In the early 1900s, African-American men such as Carter G. Woodson and W. E. B. Du Bois  were encouraging others to learn African-American history. During this time, Schomburg established the Negro Society for Historical Research in 1911 with John Howard Bruce. The purpose of the Negro Society for Historical Research would be to support the research efforts of African-American, African and Caribbean scholars. As a result of Schomburg's work with Bruce, he was appointed president of the American Negro Academy.  In this leadership position, Schomburg co-edited the Encyclopedia of the Colored Race.
Schomburg's essay, "The Negro Digs Up His Past" was published in a special issue of Survey Graphic, which promoted the artistic endeavors of African-American writers. The essay was later included in the anthology The New Negro, edited by Alain Locke. 

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