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Arturo (also known as Arthur) Alfonso Schomburg (1874–1938) was a collector of books and manuscripts pertaining to Black history and culture whose collection formed the basis of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Schomburg moved to New York City in 1891, settling in Harlem and later, Brooklyn. As a young man, he was an active supporter of Cuban and Puerto Rican independence, cofounding the political club Las Dos Antillas; later, he was involved in several organizations devoted to promoting African American research and scholarship, including the Negro Society for Historical Research and the American Negro Academy. Drawing on his extensive collection of books and historical documents, Schomburg wrote articles on the history of the African diaspora for major Black periodicals including The Crisis, Opportunity, Negro World, and The New York Amsterdam News. In 1926, Schomburg sold his collection to the New York Public Library, to support the 135th St. branch library's burgeoning collection of Black culture. After traveling to Cuba and throughout Europe to acquire more books, Schomburg served as curator of Fisk University's library from 1931–1932, then returned to New York to serve as curator of his collection at the 135th St. library from 1932 until his death in 1938.
This research guide will provide an overview of books, archival collections, and other resources related to Arturo Schomburg available online or at the New York Public Library.
Timeline of Arturo Schomburg's Life
- 1874, January 24 Arturo Alfonso Schomburg is born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Carlos Federico Schomburg and Mary Joseph.
- 1891, April 17 Arrives in New York City.
- 1892 Becomes a Mason and joins the El Sol de Cuba Lodge #38, a Spanish-speaking lodge in New York.
- 1892–1896 Helps found and serves as secretary to Las Dos Antillas, a political club committed to the goal of Cuban and Puerto Rican independence.
- 1895 Marries Elizabeth Hatcher (d.1900) from Staunton, Virginia. They have three children: Maximo Gomez, Arturo Alfonso Jr., and Kingsley Guarionex.
- 1901–1906 Works as messenger and clerk in the law firm of Pryor, Mellis and Harris in New York City.
- 1902 Marries his second wife, Elizabeth Morrow Taylor from Virginia. They have two children: Reginald Stanfield and Nathaniel Jose.
- 1904 Publishes his first known English-language article, Is Hayti Decadent? in The Unique Advertiser.
- 1906–1929 Works for Bankers Trust Company, eventually becoming supervisor of the Caribbean and Latin American Mail Section.
- 1909 Writes a short pamphlet, Placido, a Cuban Martyr, about the poet and independence fighter, Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdez.
- 1911 Helps organize and serves as secretary of the Negro Society for Historical Research.
- 1914 Marries for the third and last time to Elizabeth Green. They have three children: Fernando Alfonso, Dolores Maria and Carlos Placido.
- 1918 Elected Grand Secretary of the New York State Grand Lodge of the Prince Hall masons.
- 1920–1929 Elected President of the American Negro Academy.
- 1925 Schomburg's article The Negro Digs Up His Past is published in Alain Locke's issue of Survey Graphic and reprinted in The New Negro.
- 1926 The New York Public Library purchases Schomburg's collection of books, manuscripts, and prints with a $10,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation. The collection is deposited at the 135th Street Branch of the Library.
- 1926 Travels to Spain, France, Germany and England with funds from the sale of his collection, to conduct research and acquire new books and material.
- 1927 Awarded the William E. Harmon Award, consisting of a Bronze Medal and $100, for outstanding work in the field of Education.
- 1931–1932 Serves as curator of the Negro Collection at the library of Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee.
- 1932 Travels to Cuba where he meets Black Cuban artists and writers and acquires material for the collection.
- 1932–1938 Serves as curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art, 135th Street Branch, The New York Public Library.
- 1938, June 10 Dies after falling ill from dental infection.
- 1938, June 12 Funeral held; buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.
Sources: "Arthur A. Schomburg: A Biographical Essay" by Victoria Ortiz in The Legacy of Arthur A. Schomburg: A Celebration of the Past, A Vision for the Future exhibition catalog. (New York: The New York Public Library, 1986).
Sinnette, Elinor Des Verney. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: Black Bibliophile & Collector (The New York Public Library & Wayne State University Press, 1989).