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Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Coordinates: 40°48′52″N 73°56′28″W / 40.81444°N 73.94111°W / 40.81444; -73.94111
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Schomburg Center
for Research in Black Culture
LocationUnited States
TypeResearch library
Established1905 (as the 135th Street Branch)
1925 (as the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints)
Architect(s)Bond Ryder & Associates Edit this on Wikidata
Items collectedpoems by Phillis Wheatley, papers of Ralph Bunche, Malcolm X, and Hiram Rhodes Revels
Size10 million
Other information
DirectorJoy L. Bivins
WebsiteOfficial website
Schomburg Center

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a research library of the New York Public Library (NYPL) and an archive repository for information on people of African descent worldwide. Located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard (Lenox Avenue) between West 135th and 136th Streets in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, it has, almost from its inception, been an integral part of the Harlem community. It is named for Afro-Puerto Rican scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.

The resources of the center are broken up into five divisions: the Art and Artifacts Division, the Jean Blackwell Hutson General Research and Reference Division, the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division, and the Photographs and Prints Division.

In addition to research services, the center hosts readings, discussions, art exhibitions, and theatrical events. It is open to the general public.

Early history[edit]

135th Street branch[edit]

In 1901, Andrew Carnegie tentatively agreed to donate $5.2 million (equivalent to $190,444,800 in 2023) to construct 65 branch libraries in New York City, with the requirement that the City provide the land and maintain the buildings once construction was complete.[1] Later in 1901, Carnegie formally signed a contract with the City of New York to transfer his donation to the city to then allow it to justify purchasing the land to house the libraries.[2] McKim, Mead & White were chosen as the architects and Charles Follen McKim designed the three-story library building at 103 West 135th Street in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo mode.[3] At its opening on July 14, 1905, the library had 10,000 books[4] and the librarian in charge was Gertrude Cohen.[5]

Rose tenure (1920–1942)[edit]

World War II-era WPA poster promoting use of the Schomburg Collection of the New York Public Library (Federal Art Project 1941–43)

In 1920, Ernestine Rose, a white woman born in Bridgehampton in 1880, became the branch librarian.[6] She quickly integrated the all-white library staff.[7] Catherine Allen Latimer, the first African-American librarian hired by the NYPL, was sent to work with Rose as was Roberta Bosely months later.[8] Some time later Sadie Peterson Delaney became employed at the branch.[9] Together, they created a plan to assist in integrating reading into the lives of the library attendees and cooperated with schools and social organizations in the community.[10]

In 1921, the library hosted the first exhibition of African-American art in Harlem; it became an annual event.[11] The library became a focal point to the burgeoning Harlem Renaissance.[7] In 1923, the 135th Street branch was the only branch in New York City employing Negroes as librarians,[12] and consequently when Regina M. Anderson was hired by the NYPL, she was sent to work at the 135th Street branch.[10][13]

Rose issued a report to the American Library Association, in 1923, which stated that requests for books about Negroes or written by Negroes had been increasing,[14] and that the demand for professionally trained colored librarians was also.[15] In late 1924, Rose called a meeting, with attendees including Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, James Weldon Johnson, Hubert Harrison, that decided to focus on preserving rare books, and solicit donations to enhance its African-American collection.[16] On May 8, 1925, it began operating as the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints, a division of the NYPL.[17] In 1926, Schomburg was interested in selling his collection of African-American literature because he wanted it to be available to the general public,[18] but he wanted the collection to stay in Harlem.[19] Rose and the National Urban League convinced the Carnegie Foundation to pay $10,000 to Schomburg and then donate the books to the library. In 1926, the center's collection won acclaim with the addition of Schomburg's personal collection. By donating his collection, Schomburg sought to show that black people had a history and a culture and thus were not inferior to other races.[20] About 5,000 objects in Schomburg's collection were donated.[21]

In 1929, Anderson was desirous of a promotion and enlisted the help of W. E. B. Du Bois and Walter Francis White when she was being discriminated against by not being promoted. After letters of intervention on her behalf by Du Bois and White, and a boycott of the library by White, Anderson was promoted and transferred to the Rivington Street branch of the NYPL.[22]

By 1930, the center had 18,000 volumes.[4] In 1932, Schomburg became the first curator of his collection, until he died in 1938.[23] In 1935, the Center developed a project to deliver books once a week to those handicapped severely enough that they could not make it to the library.[24] Dr. Lawrence D. Reddick became the second curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature.[25] At the behest of Reddick, in October 1940, the entire Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro History and Literature.[26]

Schomburg Center
for Research in Black Culture
Location103 West 135th Street
Manhattan, New York City
Coordinates40°48′52″N 73°56′28″W / 40.81444°N 73.94111°W / 40.81444; -73.94111
ArchitectCharles Follen McKim
Architectural styleItalian Renaissance Palazzo
NRHP reference No.78001881
Significant dates
Added to NRHPSeptember 21, 1978
Designated NHLDecember 23, 2016
Designated NYCLFebruary 3, 1981

In 1942 Rose retired[27] after an extension was built onto the rear of the building, at a time when the library had 40,000 books. Dorothy Robinson Homer replaced her as Branch Librarian, after the Citizen's Committee of the 135th Street Branch Library specifically requested a Negro to replace Rose.[28]

Countee Cullen branch[edit]

After the extension was built, the library became known as the Countee Cullen Library branch,[29] and the 135th Street Library is still considered the original location of the Countee Cullen branch,[30] although that name is now only used for the extension itself on West 136th Street.[31]

Homer created a room of books just for young adults and created the American Negro Theatre in the basement that spawned the play Anna Lucasta, which was moved to Broadway. She kept the emphasis on building a community center for art, music and drama. She put on art exhibits that favored unknown, young artists of all races.[32]

After the outbreak of WWII, Homer started a program of monthly concert recitals in the auditorium to enhance public spirit, but the demand by performers and audience members to continue the practice made it permanent.[33]

Hutson tenure (1948–1980)[edit]

In 1948, Jean Blackwell was named the director of the center.[34] In a 1966 speech, Hutson warned of the perilous status of the Schomburg collection.[35]

In 1971, the center began being supported by the privately funded Schomburg Corporation.[36] The next year, funds by New York City were allocated to renovate the building at 103 West 135th,[37] and it was renamed the building of the Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture.[38] Simultaneously, the entire Schomburg collection was rounded up from various branch libraries and transferred to the center.[39] In 1972, it was designated as one of NYPL's research libraries.

In 1973, a building on the west side of Lenox Ave between 135th and 136th was bought to be demolished and a new building could be constructed. The location was chosen due to its proximity to other community agencies and because it was the "scene of the Harlem Renaissance."[40] In 1978, the building on 135th Street between Lenox and 7th Avenues was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.[41] In 1979, it was formally listed in the NRHP.[42]

Schomburg Center[edit]

The entrance to the center

In 1980, a new Schomburg Center was founded at 515 Lenox Avenue.[36] In 1981, the original building on West 135th Street which held the Schomburg Collection was designated a New York City Landmark.[43] In 2016, both the original and current buildings, now joined by a connector, were designated a National Historic Landmark.[44]

The Roger Furman Theatre is located within the building.[45]

Wray tenure (1981–1983)[edit]

In 1981, Wendell L. Wray became the director of the center.[46] Protests began over Wray's decision to not hire an African-American man to head the center's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Division and instead hired Robert Morris.[47] In 1983, Wray resigned to pursue academic research[46] and Catherine Hooker was named acting director.[48]

Dodson tenure (1984–2011)[edit]

Howard Dodson became the director in 1984, at a time when the Schomburg was primarily a cultural center visited by tourists and schoolchildren and its research facilities were known only to scholars.[20] In 1984, the Schomburg's collection was at 5 million. In 1984 attendance was 40,000 a year.[49] As early as 1984, the Schomburg was recognized as the most important institution in the world for collections of art and literature of people in Africa or its diaspora.[50] In 1983, a scholars-in-residence program started at the center.[51] In 1986, an exhibit entitled Give me your poor... sparked controversy.[52] In March 1987, a public funding campaign was started to raise money to renovate the old library and to enhance the new Center's housing and its functions.[53]

In 1991, additions to the Schomburg Center were completed. The new center on Malcolm X was expanded to include an auditorium and a connection to the old landmark building on 135th.[54] The Art and Artifacts Division and the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division were moved into the old landmark building.[55] In 2000, the Schomburg Center held an exhibition titled "Lest We Forget: The Triumph Over Slavery", which later went on tour around the world for more than a decade under the sponsorship of UNESCO's Slave Route Project. In 2005, the center held an exhibition of letters, photographs and other materials related to Malcolm X.[20] In 2007, the building was renovated and expanded in an $11 million project. The Schomburg Center had 120,000 visitors a year; by 2010, Dodson announced he would retire in early 2011.[20]

In 2007, the Schomburg Center was one of the sponsors of the African Burial Ground National Monument.[56]

Muhammad tenure (2011–2016)[edit]

External videos
video icon Tour of the Schomburg Center conducted by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, May 27, 2015, C-SPAN

Following Howard Dodson's announcement of his retirement in 2010,[20] Khalil Gibran Muhammad, great-grandson of Elijah Muhammad and professor of history at Indiana University, was announced as Dodson's replacement.[49] In the summer of 2011, Muhammad became the fifth director of the Schomburg. His stated goals were for the Schomburg to be a focal point for young adults and to collaborate with the local community, to not only reinforce its pride, but also for the center to be a gateway for revealing the history of Black people worldwide.[57] In July, the center began an exhibit of Malcolm X footage and prints entitled Malcolm X: the Search for Truth.

Young tenure (2016–2020)[edit]

Bob Gore photographs Kevin Young and Claudia Rankin

On August 1, 2016, the New York Public Library announced that poet and academic Kevin Young would begin as director of the Schomburg in the late fall of 2016.[58][59] During Young's four-year tenure, attendance increased by 40%, to 300,000 visitors per year.[60] He is credited with raising more than $10 million in grants and donations, and securing several high-profile acquisitions, including the papers of James Baldwin; Harry Belafonte; and the couple Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.[60][61]

Young stepped down at the end of 2020 to assume a new position as director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.[61][62]


NYPL Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture logo

In 1998 the Schomburg Collection was considered as consisting of the rarest, and most useful, Afrocentric artifacts of any public library in the United States.[63] At least as of late 2006, it is viewed as the most prestigious for African-American materials in the country.[64] As of 2010, the Collection stood at 10 million objects,[20] The center contains a signed first edition of a book of poems by Phillis Wheatley, archival material of Melville J. Herskovits,[65] John Henrik Clarke,[66] Lorraine Hansberry,[67] Malcolm X and Nat King Cole.[20] The collection includes the files, or papers of the International Labor Defense, the Civil Rights Congress, the Symphony of the New World,[68] the National Negro Congress, and the files of the South African Dennis Brutus Defense Committee (restricted). It also includes the papers of Lawrence Brown (1893–1973),[69] Melva L. Price,[70] Ralph Bunche, Léon Damas, William Pickens,[71] Hiram Rhodes Revels, Clarence Cameron White.[72] The collection also includes manuscripts of Alexander Crummell[73] and John Edward Bruce, manuscripts of Slavery, Abolitionism and on the West Indies, and letters and unpublished manuscripts of Langston Hughes. It includes some papers from Christian Fleetwood, Paul Robeson (restricted),[74] Booker T. Washington,[75] and Schomburg himself. It includes musical recordings, black and jazz periodicals, rare books and pamphlets, and tens of thousands of art objects. [76] The center's collection includes documents signed by Toussaint Louverture and a rare recording of a speech by Marcus Garvey.[20]

The center also acts as the literary representative of the heirs of Claude McKay.[77]: ix 

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Carnegie Offers City Big Gift". New-York Tribune. March 16, 1901. pp. 1–2.
  2. ^ "Library Plans All Right Now: Carnegie Approves Controller Coler Contracts". The Evening World. September 9, 1901. p. 3.; Carnegie Approves the Contracts, Mr. Carnegie's Libraries, The New York Times, September 10, 1901.
  3. ^ White & Willensky (2000), p. 507; contra: These attribute the original design to Stanford White: "Books, Black Culture and- the Course of History: Books and History", Washington Post, and "'Road to Freedom' Show at Library".
  4. ^ a b "Library's West 135th Street Branch Will Mark 25th Anniversary Tuesday: Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature Brought Harlem Unit 'to Attention of Book World--Considered Finest". New York Amsterdam News. July 30, 1930. p. 3. ProQuest 226222291.
  5. ^ "New Library Opened". New-York Tribune. July 15, 1905. p. 4.
  6. ^ Tibbets (1995), pp. 9, 18
  7. ^ a b Tibbets (1995), pp. 20–21
  8. ^ Sinnette (1989), pp. 132–133
  9. ^ Jordan, Casper LeRoy (2000). "African American Forerunners in Librarianship". In E. J. Josey; Marva L. DeLoach (eds.). Handbook of Black Librarianship (2 ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 31.
  10. ^ a b Giaimo, Cara (March 21, 2018). "The Librarian at the Nexus of the Harlem Renaissance". Atlas Obscura-Stories. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  11. ^ Wintz (2007), pp. 38–39
  12. ^ Rose, Ernestine (July 1922). "Work With Negroes Round Table". Bulletin of the American Library Association. 16 (4): 361–366. JSTOR 25686069.
  13. ^ Whitmire (2007), p. 409
  14. ^ "Interest Increases In Negro Literature: Miss Ernestine Rose Does Not Believe in Purely Colored Libraries". New York Amsterdam News. May 2, 1923. p. 7. ProQuest 226214352.
  15. ^ Marshall: 67; cf. Working with Negroes Roundtable by Ernestine Rose
  16. ^ Tibbets (1995), pp. 21–22
  17. ^ Anekwe, Simon (November 4, 1978). "Schomburg Center, historic property". New York Amsterdam News. p. A11. ProQuest 226445221.; cf. Tibbets: 22, "Historical Society is Launched at Library", 1925-05-13, Sinnette (1989), p. 134
  18. ^ Sinnette (1989), p. 141
  19. ^ Sinnette (1989), p. 136
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Lee, Felicia R. (April 19, 2010). "Harlem Center's Director to Retire in Early 2011". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2012.; cf. Rare Library Brought to Harlem: Schomburg's Rare Negro Library Now at the 135th Street Branch Noted Bibliophile Began Collecting Books on His Race 35 Years Ago
  21. ^ "Mrs. Latimer in Charge of Negro History Department: Ass't Librarian". New York Amsterdam News. January 26, 1927. p. 9. ProQuest 226371429.; "2,932 volumes, 1,124 pamphlets, and many valuable prints" cf; Sinnette (1989), p. 141 (New York Library Bulletin 31, April 1927, p. 295).
  22. ^ Whitmire: ?
  23. ^ "Schomburg is Buried While Crowds Mourn: Famous Curator Dead at 64; Collected Rare Books, Prints". New York Amsterdam News. June 18, 1938. p. 1. ProQuest 226160559. cf. Schomburg Center History.
  24. ^ Berlack-Boozer, Thelma (June 18, 1938). "Shut-Ins Cheered By Books From Library: Special Service for Them Operated Only At Busy Branch in West 135th". New York Amsterdam News. p. 8. ProQuest 226161624.
  25. ^ "Curator of Negro Literature". New York Times. August 23, 1929. p. 24. "Dr. Lawrence D. Reddick has been appointed curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library."
  26. ^ Sinnette (1989), p. 193
  27. ^ Tibbets (1995), p. 27
  28. ^ "New Librarian Takes Over At Harlem Branch: Mrs. Dorothy R. Homer, 10 Years on Job, Gets Top Spot at 135th St". New York Amsterdam News. June 27, 1942. p. 4. ProQuest 226089714.
  29. ^ "Miss Rhodes [sic, Ernestine Rose] Dies; Integrated Library". New York Amsterdam News. April 16, 1961. p. 4. ProQuest 225451240.
  30. ^ "About the Countee Cullen Library". The New York Public Library. 2012. Archived from the original on December 10, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2012.
  31. ^ Andrew L. Yarrow, "Repository of Black Past is Reopened", The New York Times, August 19, 1990 (archived).
  32. ^ Courtney, Charles (December 30, 1944). "Library Tradition Carried On By Dynamic Little Lady: She Heads Popular Uptown Library Branch Civic-Minded". New York Amsterdam News. pp. 5A. ProQuest 226038138.
  33. ^ "Doris Earle and Sallee Smith Set For Joint Recital". New York Amsterdam News. February 9, 1946. p. 18. ProQuest 225928025.
  34. ^ "Jean Blackwell Hutson, ex-Chief of Schomburg Center, dies". Jet. 93 (13): 17. February 23, 1998. Retrieved January 2, 2012.
  35. ^ Dodson, Moore & Yancy (2000), pp. 319–320
  36. ^ a b "Schomburg Center Opens in New York". The Afro American. October 11, 1980. p. 13. Retrieved January 2, 2012.
  37. ^ "Recalling the Early Days at the Schomburg Center, a Harlem Cultural Hub (page 1 of 2)". The New York Times. August 29, 1987. Archived from the original on October 6, 2013.
  38. ^ "Recalling the Early Days at the Schomburg Center, a Harlem Cultural Hub (page 2 of 2)". The New York Times. August 29, 1987. Archived from the original on January 11, 2014.; cf. New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee.
  39. ^ Dodson, Moore & Yancy (2000), p. 354
  40. ^ Henderson (1974), p. 78
  41. ^ Anekwe, Simon (November 4, 1978). "Schomburg Center, historic property". New York Amsterdam News. pp. A11. ProQuest 226445221.; cf. Stein Lauds Hudson.
  42. ^ Fraser, C. Gerald (April 1, 1979). "Schomburg Unit Listed as Landmark: Spawning Ground of Talent 40 Seats Are Not Enough Plans for a Museum". The New York Times. ProQuest 120941139.
  43. ^ "Manhattan Carnegie Libraries- West 135th Street Branch/ Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture-Photos | HDC". hdc.org. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  44. ^ "Draft NHL nomination for Schomburg Center" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  45. ^ Heyliger, Yvette (October 25, 2016). Autobiography of a Homegirl: Deep Somewhere in the Toy Box where All My Dolls are Kept. iUniverse. ISBN 9780595205561 – via Google Books.
  46. ^ a b "The City; Schomburg Center Loses Its Chief". The New York Times. March 10, 1983. Archived from the original on May 24, 2015. Retrieved January 2, 2012.
  47. ^ "The City; 2 Black Activists Seized in Protest". The New York Times. November 19, 1982. Archived from the original on May 24, 2015. Retrieved January 2, 2012.; cf. [1]
  48. ^ Anderson, Susan Heller; Mauricel (January 13, 1984). "New York Day by Day". The New York Times. Retrieved January 2, 2012.
  49. ^ a b Lee, Felicia R. (November 17, 2010). "Historian Will Direct Schomburg Center in Harlem". New York Times. Archived from the original on December 19, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  50. ^ "Harlem Renaissance Exhibit Set Saturday at State Museum". Schenectady Gazette. February 1, 1984. p. 10.
  51. ^ "Schomburg Center Scholars-in-Residence Program". The New York Public Library. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  52. ^ "'Liberty' Gala Perplexes Black Patriots". The St. Petersburg Evening Independent. June 25, 1986. p. 13A.
  53. ^ Marriott, Michel (November 23, 1987). "Schomburg Center Acts to Halt Loss of Black History". The New York Times.; Culture Center Expansion.
  54. ^ "Grand Opening of Expanded Schomburg Center", The New York Times, April 8, 1991 (archived).
  55. ^ "Research Complex Expanded". The Albany Herald. April 20, 1991. p. 8A.
  56. ^ "Memorial Dedication: African Burial Ground National Monument" (PDF). Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  57. ^ Barker, Cyril Josh (September 15, 2011). "New director of Schomburg Center gets his feet wet". New York Amsterdam News. Retrieved January 2, 2012.
  58. ^ Kelly, William P. (August 1, 2016). "Introducing the New Director of the Schomburg Center, Kevin Young". NYPL blog. Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  59. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (August 1, 2016). "The Poet Kevin Young Is Named New Director of Schomburg Center". New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  60. ^ a b Bowley, Graham (September 30, 2020). "Kevin Young, Poet and Author, Is Named to Lead African American Museum". New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  61. ^ a b "Smithsonian Names Harlem’s Schomburg Center Onetime Director As New Director". Harlem World Magazine. October 6, 2020. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  62. ^ "Kevin Young". Smithsonian Institution. si.edu. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  63. ^ Goedeken, Edward A. (1998). "The Founding and Prevalence of African-American Social Libraries & Historical Societies, 1828–1918". In John Mark Tucker (ed.). Untold Stories: Civil Rights, Libraries and Black Librarianship. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois. p. 38. ISBN 087845-1048.
  64. ^ Woo, Elaine (October 21, 2006). "A Champion of Black History". Los Angeles Times.
  65. ^ "Melville J. and Frances S. Herskovits papers", New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts.
  66. ^ "John Henrik Clarke papers", New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts.
  67. ^ "Lorraine Hansberry papers", Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.
  68. ^ "Symphony of the New World: 50th Anniversary of a Pioneering Organization". New York Public Library. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  69. ^ "Lawrence Brown Papers" at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.
  70. ^ "Melva L. Price papers". New York Public Library, Archives & Manuscripts. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  71. ^ "William Pickens papers", Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts.
  72. ^ "Dennis Brutus Papers", Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts.
  73. ^ "Alexander Crummell Papers", Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts.
  74. ^ "Paul Robeson collection, 1925–1956" Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts.
  75. ^ "Booker T. Washington correspondence, 1889–1913", Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts.
  76. ^ Kaiser, Ernest (2000). "Library Holdings on African Americans". In E. J. Josey; Marva L. DeLoach (eds.). Handbook of Black Librarianship (2 ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. pp. 259–261.
  77. ^ McKay, Claude (2004). Complete poems. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252075902.


Reference books

  • Harris, Michael H., and Donald G. Davis Jr (1978). American Library History: a bibliography. Austin: University of Texas. ISBN 0292703325
  • Davis, Donald G. Jr, and John Mark Tucker (1989). American Library History: a comprehensive guide to the literature. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 0874361427

Further reading

External links[edit]