Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

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Arturo Alfonso Schomburg
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.jpg
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg
BornJanuary 24, 1874
DiedJune 10, 1938(1938-06-10) (aged 64)
NationalityPuerto Rican
MovementHarlem Renaissance
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Hatcher, m. 1895–1900 (until her death), Elizabeth Morrow Taylor, m. 1902–1938 (until her death), Elizabeth Green
Schomburg, also known as Arthur Schomburg, took an active role advocating Puerto Rico's independence.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (January 24, 1874 – June 10, 1938), was a historian,[1] writer, collector,[2] and activist.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

Early years[edit]

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.[5]

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.[6]

Puerto Rico independence advocate[edit]

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.[4] 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".[6] 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.[6][7] In 1892, Schomburg co-founded Las Dos Antillas (The Two Islands), a political club that advocated for the independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico.[2] [8] The club existed from 1892 to 1898, and members discussed issues such as providing weapons, medical supplies, and financial aid to independence movements.[8]

Marriage and family[edit]

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).[7]

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.[7] After Elizabeth Morrow Taylor's death he married Elizabeth Green with whom he had three more children.[9]


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.[7]

The Negro Society for Historical Research[edit]

In 1911, Schomburg co-founded with John Edward Bruce the Negro Society for Historical Research, to create an institute to support scholarly efforts. For the first time, it brought together African, West Indian, and Afro-American scholars. In 1914, Schomburg joined the exclusive American Negro Academy, becoming, from 1920 to 1928, the fifth and last President of the organization. Founded in Washington, DC in 1897, this first major African American learned society brought together scholars, editors, and activists to refute racist scholarship, promote black claims to individual, social, and political equality, and publish the history and sociology of African American life.[10]

This was a period of the founding of societies to encourage scholarship in African-American history. In 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) and began publishing the Journal of Negro History.

Schomburg became involved in the Harlem Renaissance movement, which spread to other African-American communities in the U.S. The concentration of blacks in Harlem from across the US and Caribbean led to a flowering of arts, intellectual and political movements. He was the co-editor of the 1912 edition of Daniel Alexander Payne Murray's Encyclopedia of the Colored Race.

In 1916 Schomburg published what was the first notable bibliography of African-American poetry, A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry.[11]

In March 1925 Schomburg published his essay "The Negro Digs Up His Past" in an issue of Survey Graphic devoted to the intellectual life of Harlem. It had widespread distribution and influence. The autodidact historian John Henrik Clarke told of being so inspired by the essay that at the age of 17 he left home in Columbus, Georgia, to seek out Mr. Schomburg to further his studies in African history. Alain Locke included the essay in his edited collection The New Negro.[12]

The Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art[edit]

The NYPL and the librarian of the 135th Street Branch, Ernestine Rose, purchased his extensive collection of literature, art and other materials in 1926. They appointed Schomburg curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art, named in his honor, at the 135th Street Branch (Harlem) of the Library. It was later renamed the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.[13]

Between 1931 and 1932 Schomburg served as Curator of the Negro Collection at the library of Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, helping direct their acquisition of materials. During 1932 he traveled to Cuba. While there he met various Cuban artists and writers, and acquired more material for his studies.

He was granted an honorary membership of the Men's Business Club in Yonkers, New York. He also held the position of treasurer for the Loyal Sons of Africa in New York and was elevated being the past master of Prince Hall Lodge Number 38, Free and Accepted Masons (F.A.M.) and Rising Sun Chapter Number 4, R.A.M.

Later years[edit]

Following dental surgery, Schomburg became ill and died in Madison Park Hospital in Brooklyn New York, on June 10, 1938.[7][14] He is buried in the Locust Grove section[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante named Schomburg on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[18]

To honor Schomburg, Hampshire College awards a $30,000 merit-based scholarship in his name for students who "demonstrate promise in the areas of strong academic performance and leadership at Hampshire College and in the community."[19]

The College of Arts and Sciences at University at Buffalo also has a fellowship named in honor of Schomburg.[20]

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.[16]

In 2020, the United States Postal Service featured Schomburg on a postage stamp as part of the series on the Harlem Renaissance.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Arthur Schomburg and the Harlem Renaissance". Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  2. ^ a b "Jan. 24, 1874: Arturo Alfonso Schomburg Born". Zinn Education Project. Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  3. ^ Diouf, Sylviane Anna. "Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938)". Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  4. ^ a b Hoffnung-Garskof, Jesse (2001). "The Migrations of Arturo Schomburg: On Being Antillano, Negro, and Puerto Rican in New York 1891-1938". Journal of American Ethnic History. 21 (1): 3–49. ISSN 0278-5927.
  5. ^ a b "The 'Father of Black History' Was Afro-Puerto Rican". NPR. NPR Latino USA.
  6. ^ a b c Robert Knight, "Arthur Alfonso 'Afroborinqueno' Schomburg" Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, History Notes, Global African Community, accessed February 2, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Arturo Alfonso Schomburg: Pionero en la historia afronorteamericana" Archived 2009-02-27 at the Wayback Machine, Nuestro Mondo/People's Weekly World, accessed February 2, 2009.
  8. ^ a b " -- Las Dos Antillas Political Club minutes". Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  9. ^ Arturo Alfonso Schomburg Pioneering Historian
  10. ^ Alfred A. Moss. The American Negro Academy: Voice of the Talented Tenth. Louisiana State University Press, 1981.
  11. ^ SallyAnn H. Ferguson, "Porter, Dorothy", in William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster & Trudier Harris (eds), Oxford Companion to African American Literature, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 597.
  12. ^ Arthur Schomburg, "The Negro Digs Up His Past" Archived February 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, Survey Graphic, Harlem: March 1925, University of Virginia Library; accessed February 2, 2009.
  13. ^ Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience, New York Public Library.
  14. ^ Des Verney Sinnette, Elinor (1989). Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, Black Bibliophile & Collector: A Biography. page 192: Wayne state university press. p. 23. ISBN 0814321577. dental.CS1 maint: location (link)
  15. ^ Duer, Stephen C.; Smith, Allan B. (2010). Cypress Hills Cemetery. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-7385-7343-4. LCCN 2010921765.
  16. ^ a b The Arthur A. Schomburg Papers
  17. ^ Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Archived 2009-02-07 at the Wayback Machine, NYPL.
  18. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002), 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  19. ^ "Arturo Schomburg Scholarship.
  20. ^ "Arthur A. Schomburg Fellowship Program
  21. ^ "Honoring Four of Harlem's Historic Voices - Newsroom -". Retrieved 2021-02-25.

Further reading[edit]

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