The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will always hold a special place in my heart, for it is where I launched my career in libraries many years ago. The venerable institution, located in Harlem, on the corner of 135th Street and Lenox Avenue (or Malcolm X Boulevard, if you prefer), has been the cornerstone for collecting and disseminating information about African Americans and Blacks throughout the world since the early 20th Century.In 1926, with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, the New York Public Library (NYPL) purchased the “Schomburg Collection” for the 135th Street Branch Library’s Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints. The collection of some 10,000 books, manuscripts and other materials was amassed by bibliophile Arthur Schomburg, a Puerto Rican of African descent, who arrived in New York City in 1891 when he was 17 years old.
In the 1986 exhibition catalog, The Legacy of Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: A Celebration of the Past, A Vision for the Future, Howard Dodson writes that the Schomburg Center, “…is the product of a particular place, time, and circumstance. Founded in the midst of the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ of the 1920s, [it] was a product of the Renaissance and a forum for it. During the 1920s, the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library emerged as one of the leading cultural centers of the Renaissance and became the repository for a unique collection of book and non-book materials by and about blacks and the setting in which the study and interpretation of black history and culture were given new meaning for scholars, artists, intellectuals, and the general public.”
Now 85 years later, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture continues the tradition through its five divisions (Arts and Artifacts; Manuscripts Archives and Rare Books; Moving Image and Recorded Sound; Photographs and Prints; and Research and Reference); the Scholars-in-Residence Program; public programs and events; and its Digital Schomburg enterprise.
Mr. Dodson, who as caretaker of this rich legacy since 1984, doubled the Center’s holdings from 5 million items to 10 million, retires this year. Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a history professor at Indiana University, will take the helm this July.
In the coming weeks and months I will explore, in more detail, various aspects of the Schomburg Center. For now, however, see links below for more information. Cheers!
New York Times articles: Harlem Center’s Director to Retire in Early 2011 and Historian Will Direct Schomburg Center in Harlem; NYPL Press Release: Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad Named Next Director of the Schomburg Center For Research in Black Culture