Arturo Alfonso Schomburg
also known as Arthur Schomburg
(January 24 1874
–June 8 1938
) was a Puerto Rican historian, writer and activist, who helped raise awareness of the great contribution that Afro-Latin Americans and Afro-Americans have made to society.
Schomburg was born in the town of Santurce
, Puerto Rico
(now part of San Juan
) to María Josefa, a freeborn Black midwife
from St. Croix
, and Carlos Féderico Schomburg, a merchant of German
heritage. Schomburg was educated at San Juan's Instituto Popular, where he learned commercial printing, and at St. Thomas College in the Danish-ruled Virgin Islands
, where he studied Negro Literature. During grade school one of his teachers claimed that blacks had no history, heroes or accomplishments; this patently false claim inspired Schomburg's life-long quest to find the truth and to document the accomplishments of African-Latinos, such as Jose Campeche
and later of Afro-Americans.
Schomburg immigrated to New York
on April 17 1891
and settled down in the Harlem
section of Manhattan
; here he continued amassing the information needed to untangle the African
thread of history in the fabric of the Americas
. After experiencing racial discrimination, he began calling himself "Afroborinqueño" which means "Afro-Puerto Rican". He became a member of the "Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico" and took an active role advocating Puerto Rico's and Cuba
In 1892 he became a Mason, joining the Spanish-speaking "El Sol de Cuba Lodge 38", were he was Elected Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge in 1918. On June 30 1895 he married Elizabeth Hatcher of Staunton, Virginia and they had three sons, Maximo Gomez, Arthur Alfonso Jr. and Kingsley Guarionex.
He began teaching Spanish
in New York
in 1896. After Elizabeth died in 1900, he married Elizabeth Morrow Taylor of Williamsburg, North Carolina
. They were married on March 17 1902
and also had two children Reginald Stanton and Nathaniel Jose Schomburg. 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 until he left here in 1929. Schomburg's first known article, "Is Hayti
Decadent?", was published during 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 Valdéz
The Negro Society for Historical Research
In 1911, Schomburg co-founded with John Edward Bruce
the Negro Society for Historical Research. He was also to become the President of the American Negro Academy which championed black history. Schomburg became involved in the Harlem Renaissance
movement, which spread to other African American communities in the U.S. He was the co-editor of the 1912 edition of Daniel Alexander Payne Murray
's Encyclopedia of the Colored Race
. In 1925, Schomburg was initiated as a member of Kappa Alpha Psi
's Omicron Chapter at Columbia University
He wrote the essay "The Negro Digs Up His Past" which was published in the Survey Graphic of Harlem in March, 1925. The essay would later be included in the book The New Negro edited by Alain Locke; this essay was also so influential on John Henrik Clarke that at age seventeen he left home in Columbus, Georgia to seek out Mr. Schomburg to further his studies in African history.
The Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art
Between 1931 and 1932 Schomburg served as Curator of the Negro Collection at the library of Fisk University
. During 1932 he traveled to Cuba and whilst there he met various Cuban
artists and writers, and acquired more material for his studies. Later he became the curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art, 135th Street Branch, The New York Public Library
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.
Following dental surgery Schomburg became very ill and died in Madison Park Hospital, Brooklyn
, New York
on June 8 1938
; he is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg's work has served as an inspiration to Puerto Ricans
alike. The raised awareness of the great contribution that Afro-Latin Americans
and Afro-Americans have made to society, as result of Schomburg's work, sowed the base for future generations to establish the Civil rights movement
Schomburg had amassed a world renowned collection which consisted of artworks, manuscripts, rare books, slave narratives and other remnants of Black history. So impressed was the New York Public Library with Schomburg's collection that the Carnegie Corporation purchased it from him for $10,000 to form the cornerstone of the Library's Division of Negro History at its 135th Street Branch in Harlem. The proceeds from the sale were used to fund travel to Spain, France, Germany and England, to seek out other pieces of black history to further add to the collection.
Another collection of documents which belonged to Schomburg, can be found at the Schomburg Center in New York.