On January 24th, 1874, Arturo Alphonso Schomburg was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico to a free black Caribbean midwife named Mary Joseph; his father was a German merchant residing in Puerto Rico named Carlos Federico Schomburg. As a young child in school, Schomburg was having a discussion with one of his teachers, who went on to tell him that African people had no history and contributed nothing to humanity. Schomburg did not believe his teacher and was determined to find and display the history of African people to the world. He completed his formal education in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the Instituto Popular studying commercial printing. He also studied African literature at St. Thomas College. In 1891, Schomburg moved to Harlem, New York where he became a member of the Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico, a committee founded by Puerto Rican exiles who united with Cubans to fight for their independence from Spanish rule.
Unfortunately, the Cuban Revolutionary Struggle was unsuccessful and Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States, Schomburg focused on uncovering the history of Africa and its many accomplishments. In 1911, Schomburg co-founded The American Negro Society, as well as renamed the El Sol de Cuba #38 Lodge to the Prince Hall Lodge #38. "Afroborinqueño" or Afro- Puerto Rican is the term Schomburg used for himself after experiencing racism; he wanted America to know he was proud of who he was and his ancestral heritage. While studying as much of African history and culture as he could, Schomburg worked as a clerk in a law firm and as a Spanish teacher. In 1895, Schomburg married a woman named Elizabeth Hatcher, the couple produced three sons before her death in 1900. Two years later he married Elizabeth Morrow Taylor, they produced two sons before her death. He then married Elizabeth Green and they also produced three sons.
In 1906, Schomburg worked for the Bankers Trust Company before becoming supervisor of the Caribbean and Latin American Mail Section. In 1904, his first article was published in the The Unique Advertiser titled "Is Hayti Decadent?” He then published a pamphlet titled Placido, a Cuban Martyr about Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, a Cuban independence fighter. In 1914, Schomburg became a member of the American Negro Academy, serving as the last president from 1920 to 1928. The academy was created to unite African scholars who disproved racist scholarship, while promoting the vastness of African history, culture and contributions to humanity. Enveloped within the cultural richness of the Harlem Renaissance, Schomburg was heavily influenced by other black scholars while in turn influencing them to study and promote the history of Africa. In 1912, he was the co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the Colored Race written by Daniel Alexander Payne Murray. In 1916, Schomburg published A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry. In 1925, Schomburg published the essay "The Negro Digs Up His Past” in the Survey Graphic magazine; the essay was powerful enough to influence the esteemed historian Dr. John Henrick Clarke to seek out Schomburg and become a historian himself. “The Negro Digs Up His History” was also in the essay collection titled The New Negro by Alain Locke.
In 1935, a librarian named Ernestine Rose who represented the New York Public Library purchased Schomburg’s extensive collection of African historical information and artifacts, for the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art housed in the 135th street branch of the New York Public Library. Schomburg was so impressive and influential a whole cultural center was named after him. The Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art was eventually renamed the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Schomburg was the curator of the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He also served as the curator for the Negro Collection at Fisk University’s library from 1931 to 1932. He became an honorary member of the Men’s Business Club, became the treasurer of the Loyal Sons of Africa, he became the past master of the Prince Hall Lodge #38 Free and Accepted Masons and Rising Sun Chapter Number 4. Schomburg died in 1938, but inspired many African people to learn about the greatness of African history and culture, and the many accomplishments African people brought to the world. Schomburg traveled the world collecting African historical artifacts and information to display to his people and the world. He was named one of the 100 Greatest African Americans in 2002 by Molefi Asante. Hampshire College and the University of Buffalo both have scholarships named in honor of Schomburg. He is one of the many African historians who laid the foundation for On the Shoulders of Giants to exist today. To the late great Arturo Alphonso Schomburg, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
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