Arturo Alfon­so Schom­burg, also known as Arthur Schom­burg, (Jan­u­ary 24, 1874 –June 8, 1938), was a Puer­to Rican his­to­ri­an, writer, and activist in the Unit­ed States who researched and raised aware­ness of the great con­tri­bu­tions that Afro-Latin Amer­i­cans and Afro-Amer­i­cans have made to soci­ety. He was an impor­tant intel­lec­tu­al fig­ure in the Harlem Renais­sance. Over the years, he col­lect­ed lit­er­a­ture, art, slave nar­ra­tives, and oth­er mate­ri­als of African his­to­ry, which was pur­chased to become the basis of the Arthur Schom­burg Cen­ter for Research in Black Cul­ture, named in his hon­or, at the New York Pub­lic Library branch in Harlem.

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. While Schom­burg was in grade school, one of his teach­ers claimed that blacks had no his­to­ry, heroes or accom­plish­ments. Inspired to prove the teacher wrong, Schom­burg deter­mined that he would find and doc­u­ment the accom­plish­ments of Africans on their own con­ti­nent and in the dias­po­ra, includ­ing Afro-Lati­nos, such as Jose Campeche, and lat­er Afro-Amer­i­cans. 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 the Harlem sec­tion of Man­hat­tan. 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” which means “Afro-Puer­to Rican”. He became a mem­ber of the “Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mit­tee of Puer­to Rico”. He took an active role advo­cat­ing Puer­to Rico’s and Cuba’s inde­pen­dence.

On June 30, 1895 Schom­burg mar­ried Eliz­a­beth Hatch­er of Staunton, Vir­ginia. She had come to New York as part of a wave of migra­tion from the South that would increase in the 20th cen­tu­ry and be known as the Great Migra­tion. They had three sons: Max­i­mo Gomez; Arthur Alfon­so, Jr. and Kings­ley Guar­i­onex Schom­burg.

After Eliz­a­beth died in 1900, Schom­burg mar­ried Eliz­a­beth Mor­row Tay­lor of Williams­burg, North Car­oli­na. They were mar­ried on March 17, 1902 and had two sons: Regi­nald Stan­ton and Nathaniel José Schom­burg.

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. His first known arti­cle, “Is Hayti Deca­dent?”, was pub­lished in 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.

In 1911, Schom­burg co-found­ed with John Edward Bruce the Negro Soci­ety for His­tor­i­cal Research, to cre­ate an insti­tute to sup­port schol­ar­ly efforts. For the first time it brought togeth­er African, West Indi­an and Afro-Amer­i­can schol­ars. Schom­burg was lat­er to become the Pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Negro Acad­e­my, found­ed in Wash­ing­ton, DC in 1874, which cham­pi­oned black his­to­ry and lit­er­a­ture. This was a peri­od of found­ing of soci­eties to encour­age schol­ar­ship in African Amer­i­can his­to­ry. In 1915, Dr. Carter G. Wood­son co-found­ed the Asso­ci­a­tion for the Study of Negro Life and His­to­ry (now called the Asso­ci­a­tion for the Study of African Amer­i­can Life and His­to­ry) and began pub­lish­ing the Jour­nal of Negro His­to­ry. Schom­burg became involved in the Harlem Renais­sance move­ment, which spread to oth­er African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties in the U.S. The con­cen­tra­tion of blacks in Harlem from across the US and Caribbean led to a flow­er­ing of arts, intel­lec­tu­al and polit­i­cal move­ments. He was the co-edi­tor of the 1912 edi­tion of Daniel Alexan­der Payne Murray’s Ency­clo­pe­dia of the Col­ored Race. In March 1925 Schom­burg pub­lished his essay “The Negro Digs Up His Past” in an issue of the Sur­vey Graph­ic devot­ed to the intel­lec­tu­al life of Harlem. It had wide­spread dis­tri­b­u­tion and influ­ence. The auto­di­dact his­to­ri­an John Hen­rik Clarke told of being so inspired by the essay that at age sev­en­teen he left home in Colum­bus, Geor­gia to seek out Mr. Schom­burg to fur­ther his stud­ies in African his­to­ry. Alain Locke includ­ed the essay in his edit­ed col­lec­tion The New Negro.

After the New York Pub­lic Library (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.

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