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Friday, January 24, 2014

“Blacks Have No History!”

San Juan, Puerto Rico
January 24, 1874 – June 8, 1938


Today, January 24 is the birthday of black historian, writer, and activist who researched and raised awareness of the great contributions of black people worldwide, especially Afro-Latin Americans and African-Americans. Arturo was born in the town of Santurce, Puerto Rico (now part of the capital San Juan). While in grade school, one of his teachers claimed that blacks have no history, heroes, or accomplishments. Inspired to prove the teacher wrong, Arturo Schomburg determined that he would find and document the accomplishments of continental Africans and those throughout the diaspora, and became an important intellectual figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

Over the years, Arturo Alfonso collected literature, art, slave narratives, and other materials of African history, which was purchased to become the basis of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, named in his honor. The Schomburg Center is a branch of the New York Public Library located on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, New York City, has been an integral part of the Harlem community since its inception. In 1978, the original building located around the corner on 135th Street between Malcolm X Blvd. and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd was entered into the National Register of Historic Places



Every time I'm in New York, I always make to the
Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture 

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was educated at San Juan's Instituto Popular where he learned commercial printing. At St. Thomas College in the Danish-ruled Virgin Islands, he studied Negro Literature. Schomburg immigrated to New York on April 17, 1891, and settled in Harlem, New York City. 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 (Afro-Puerto Rican). He became a member of the "Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico" and became an active advocate of Puerto Rico and Cuba's independence from Spain.

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. 

He was the co-editor of the 1912 edition of Daniel Alexander Payne Murray's Encyclopedia of the Colored Race. In 1916 he published what was the first notable bibliography of African-American poetry, A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry.

 
The Lenox Terrace apartments in Harlem, NY where I 
grew up was only one block from the Schomburg Center 

After the NYPL 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. Between 1931 and 1932 Schomburg served as Curator of the Negro Collection at the library of the historically black Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, helping direct their acquisition of materials.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg's work served as an inspiration to Puerto Ricans, Latinos and African-American alike. The power of knowing about the great contribution that black people have made worldwide, helped continuing work and future generations in the Civil rights movement.