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Guide to the Jean Blackwell Hutson Research & Reference Division: History

Welcome! This guide will provide an overview of the Research & Reference Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

History of the Schomburg Center

The Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints—the forerunner to today’s Schomburg Center—opened in 1925 as a special collection of the 135th Street Branch Library to meet the needs of a changing community. The Division first won international acclaim in 1926, when the personal collection of the distinguished Puerto Rican-born Black scholar and bibliophile, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, was added.

Schomburg's collection included more than 5,000 books; 3,000 manuscripts; 2,000 etchings and paintings; and several thousand pamphlets.  Schomburg served as curator of the Division from 1932 until his death in 1938.

In 1940, the Division was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, History and Prints in honor of its founder. In 1972, the Schomburg Collection was designated as one of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library and became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Who is Jean Blackwell Hutson

The Research and Reference Division is named in honor of Jean Blackwell Hutson, who served as the Chief Librarian at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture from 1948 until her retirement in 1981. Ms. Hutson was born in Sommerfield, Florida in 1914 and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1935 she graduated with a degree in English from Barnard College. Ms. Hutson desired to pursue a career in librarianship and applied to Enoch Pratt Library Training School, but was denied entrance due to her race, later winning a discrimination lawsuit against the school. She received her degree in Library Science from Columbia University in 1936 and in 1941 received a teaching degree from Columbia as well. 

She was hired by the New York Public Library in 1936. As the Chief Librarian at the Schomburg Center, she developed the Schomburg Dictionary Catalog and significantly grew the Library's collection. During her time in New York Ms. Hutson developed close friendships with well-known writers, scholars, and artists, such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright - both of their collections are housed at the Schomburg Center.

Jean Blackwell Hutson held many other achievements beyond her work at the Schomburg Center. She taught courses at the City College of New York, helped to created the Africana Collection at the University of Ghana, and was involved in such organizations as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and served on the Task Force on Library and Information Services to Cultural Minorities of the National Commission on Libraries.

Jean Blackwell Hutson

Jean Blackwell Hutson photographed by Brian Lanker, 1989. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Schneider/Erdman Printer's Proof Collection, partial gift, and partial purchase through the Margaret Fisher Fund

Images of the Schomburg Center from the NYPL Digital Collections

Exterior of the 135th Street Branch

Exterior view of the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library ca. 1930s.

Prior to becoming one of the four New York Public Library Research Libraries, The Schomburg Center began as the 135th Street Branch. This part of the Schomburg Center is now know as the Landmark Building.

Interior view of the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints

Interior view of the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints, at the New York Public Library 135th Street Branch, in 1928, which was later renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and History. Photographed by James Van Der Zee (1886-1983).

Researchers in 135th Street Branch.

Researchers using the Schomburg Collection, when it was the 135th Street Branch.

View of researchers using the Schomburg Collection, when it was the 135th Street Branch Library Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints, as it looked in 1938, with Catherine A. Latimer, reference librarian of the collection, in left background.

135th Street, Adult Reference and Miss E. Rose

135th Street Branch, Adult Reference room, early 1900s.

135th Street, Adult Reference room with librarian, Ernestine Rose.

Bibliography