The Arthur Alfonso Schomburg Collection depicts aspects of his personal life and his activities as a Freemason, bibliophile and curator from the 1870s to 1938. The collection includes individual and group portraits, candid shots and snapshots of Schomburg; his wives and family members; and friends and professional associates. Also depicted are social activities and gatherings; exterior views of buildings and residences; reproductions of letters, citations, clippings and a passport; and snapshot views of a trip to Spain and France. Some group portraits and views of events that occurred after his death in 1938 are also included. The collection contains no images pertaining to Schomburg's revolutionary activities or his curatorship at Fisk University. Some photographs were used in the books "Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: Black Bibliophile & Collector" by Elinor Des Verney Sinnette, and "The Legacy of Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: A Celebration of the Past, A Vision for the Future" that accompanied an exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 1986-1987.
Biographical/historical: Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, bibliophile, was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, of racially mixed parentage in 1874. He received a formal education, but was largely self-taught. He moved to the United States in 1891, settling in New York City, where he would join the Masons, became active in the independence movement for Puerto Rico and Cuba, and began his lifelong quest to acquire the literature and art of persons of African descent. After working for five years in a law office, he began a 23 year tenure at the Bankers Trust Company, in 1906, eventually working his way up to head of the mail room.
As an expert in the history of persons of African descent, Schomburg, now known as Arthur, was an important figure during the Harlem Renaissance. He was active in the Prince Hall Freemasons; helped to co-found the Negro Society for Historical Research, with journalist John Bruce, in 1911; became the president of the short-lived American Negro Academy in 1922; and wrote numerous essays and bibliographical studies on African and African-American history. In 1925, the New York Public Library opened a Negro Division at the 135th Street Branch Library in Harlem, followed the next year by the Carnegie Corporation's $10,000 donation to purchase Schomburg's collection of books, manuscripts and art, which was then donated to the library. Schomburg, who was a librarian at Fisk University from 1930 to 1932, became the Carnegie funded curator of his collection at the 135th Street Branch, and remained in this position until his death in 1938. His collection was named the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and History in 1940; in 1973, it was renamed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Content: Organized into three series: I. Personal photographs, 1870s-1980s. II. Civic and professional activities, 1900-1938. III. General series, 1900-1980s.