Arturo Alfonso Schomburg: Digging Up African History

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg: Digging Up African History

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Afro-Puerto Rican historian, writer, and activist Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance.

Schomburg collected literature, art and other artifacts pertaining to people of African descent. His collections were purchased by the New York Public Library.

Today, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the most prominent research libraries focused on the African diaspora.

Key Details

  • Birth date: January 24, 1874
  • Parents: Maria Josefa and Carlos Federico Schomburg
  • Spouse: Elizabeth Hatcher d. 1900; Elizabeth Morrow Taylor
  • Children: Arthur Alfonso Jr., Maximo Gomez, Kingsley Guarionex, Reginald Stanton and Nathaniel Jose.
  • Death: June 8, 1938

Early Life and Education

As a child, Schomburg was told by one of his teachers that people of African descent had no history and no achievements. This teacher's words inspired Schomburg to dedicate the rest of his life to discovering the important accomplishments of people of African descent.

Schomburg attended Instituto Popular where he studied commercial printing. He later studied Africana Literature at St. Thomas College.

Migration to the Main Land

In 1891, Schomburg came to New York City and became an activist with the Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico. As an activist with this organization, Schomburg played an integral role in fighting for Puerto Rico and Cuba's independence from Spain.

Living in Harlem, Schomburg coined the term "afroborinqueno" to celebrate his heritage as a Latino of African descent.

To support his family, Schomburg worked a variety of jobs such as teaching Spanish, working as a messenger and a clerk in a law firm.

However, his passion was identifying artifacts that disproved the notion that people of African descent had no history or achievements. Schomburg's first article, "Is Hayti Decadent?" appeared in a 1904 issue of The Unique Advertiser.

By 1909, Schomburg wrote a profile on the poet and independence fighter, Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdez entitled Placido a Cuban Martyr.

An Esteemed Historian

In the early 1900s, African-American men such as Carter G. Woodson and W.E.B. Du Bois were encouraging others to learn African-American history. During this time, Schomburg established the Negro Society for Historical Research in 1911 with John Howard Bruce. The purpose of the Negro Society for Historical Research would be to support the research efforts of African-American, African and Caribbean scholars. As a result of Schomburg's work with Bruce, he was appointed the president of the American Negro Academy In this leadership position, Schomburg co-edited the Encyclopedia of the Colored Race.

Schomburg's essay, "The Negro Digs Up His Past" was published in a special issue of Survey Graphic, which promoted the artistic endeavors of African-American writers. The essay was later included in the anthology The New Negro, edited by Alain Locke.

Schomburg's essay "The Negro Digs Up His Past" influenced many African-Americans to begin studying their past.

In 1926, the New York Public Library purchased Schomburg's collection of literature, art and other artifacts for $10,000. Schomburg was appointed as the curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library. Schomburg used the money from the sale of his collection to add more artifacts of African history to the collection and traveled to Spain, France, Germany, England, and Cuba.

In addition to his position with the New York Public Library, Schomburg was appointed curator of the Negro Collection at Fisk University's library.


Throughout Schomburg's career, he was honored with memberships into many African-American organizations including the Men's Business Club in Yonkers, NY; Loyal Sons of Africa; and, Prince Hall Masonic Lodge.

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