Arturo Schomburg: Preserving The Diasporic Richness of the Black Experience

Arturo Schomburg a preserver of diasporic richness.
July 5, 2022

It’s almost  impossible to talk about the significant historical figures who transformed the way in which Black History would be researched and studied without mentioning Arturo Alfonso Schomurg. Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was born in Puerto Rico in 1874 and passed away in 1938. During his lifespan, he focused the entirety of his energy on preserving Black History and culture. Born of a West Indian mother and German father, he initially focused on the liberation movements of Puerto Rico and Cuba. As a young child not learning much about African history served as a catalyst that propelled him to want to know more about the Black experience in the United States and throughout the globe. However, he shifted his focus to Black literature, Slave narratives, artwork and diasporic materials that reflected the Black experience once the Spanish war concluded and once the Cuban revolutionary party resolved. 

He was known to have a collection of books, documents and research materials that was second to none. In 1926 his personal collection from his very own Brooklyn, New York home was added to the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints of the Harlem branch of The New York Public Library. He served as a curator until his death. His passion for preserving the history of the Black experience led to him getting invited to Fisk University to help design a layout and architectural blueprint for the library there. He exceeded expectations by Fisk’s president, Charles Johnson, by establishing a reading room and a browsing space. These were innovations that hadn’t been achieved or thought about much before his time. While working at Fisk, he also expanded the collection, growing it to 4,600 books from a mere 106 items. His contributions ultimately led Fisk University to becoming an authority on Black research and studies. 

Shomburg also was known to work with a number of people. He was a Prince Hall Mason and served as president of the American Negro Academy of Washington D.C. which was a Black intellectual organization that devoted much of its time to focusing on the collection and dissemination of overlooked Black historical texts. He believed that the Black experience was worthy of analysis. Scholar and author Vanessa Valdes sheds light on the legacy of Schomburg in her work, Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Schomburg. Gone but not forgotten is the legacy of Arturo Arthur Schomburg.

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