Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

January 24, 1874 - June 8, 1938 

 

arturo alfonso schombuArturo Alfonso 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 Federico Schomburg, a German merchant living in Puerto Rico.

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. 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 City 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" and became an active advocate of Puerto Rico's and Cuba's independence from Spain.

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 Valdés.

Over the years, he collected literature, art, slave narratives, and other materials of African history, which was purchased to become the basis of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, named in his honor, at the New York Public Library (NYPL) branch in Harlem.

Following dental surgery, Schomburg became ill and died in Madison Park Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, on June 8, 1938. He is buried in grave 13785 in the Locust Grove section of Cypress Hill Cemetery.