(Arturo Alfonso Schomberg)
On my first visit to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture located on 135th Street and Lenox Ave in Harlem, I marveled at the exhibits celebrating the black experience including beautiful art work and even black science fiction writers, a modernspace for events and the research library downstairs. The center consists of three connected buildings, the Schomburg building, the Langston Hughes building and the Landmark building.
Under the auspices of the New York Public Library it started as The Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints, the prototype for the current center today which opened in 1925 as a special collection for the 135th Street library branch to match the needs of the growing black community. In 1926 the division won international acclaim when the Puerto Rican born black scholar and book collector Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was added to the collection, which consisted of 2,000 etchings and paintings, 3,000 manuscripts, over 5,000 books and thousands of pamphlets.
(The original site of the of The Collection of Negro Literature, History and Prints, Now the “Landmark Building”).
The Division was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, History and Prints in 1940. The center was designated a research library in 1972 by the New York Public Library and then became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The center underwent an expansion in 1991, adding exhibition spaces, galleries and a 340 seat Langston Hughes Auditorium for lectures and performances and special events.
The history of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a rich one, and while its establishment can be traced to the very beginning, the founding of the center is a bit more complex. Even when I asked the gentleman behind the information desk in the research library, he had a difficult time giving me an answer due to the complex nature of its founding and referred me to a couple of books on Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a very interesting fellow who was also a black Master Mason at a Brooklyn Lodge.
(Arturo Alfonso Schomburg with his Masonic Fraters at the Brooklyn Lodge)
In essence, the true founders of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, was The New York Public Library and Arturo Alfonso Schomburg due to his magnificent collection of books and manuscripts, as well as paintings and etchings. In 1920 Catherine Allen Latimer became the first African American librarian hired by the New York Public Library at the 135th Street branch. The Schomburg Center is currently finishing renovations for a more modern look to reflect the 21 century.