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.
Personal photographs include a studio portrait of Schomburg as a young child (ca. 1878); individual studio portraits of Schomburg and his first wife, Elizabeth "Bessie" Hatcher (ca. 1896); a studio portrait of Schomburg and his sister, Dolores Maria (ca. 1905); a studio portrait of Dolores Maria (n.d.); a photographic reproduction of a painting of Schomburg's second wife, Elizabeth Morrow Taylor, done by William Ernest Braxton (ca. 1911); a studio portrait of son, Kingsley (ca. 1910); numerous studio portraits of Schomburg taken between the 1910s to the 1930s, including one in his Masonic attire (ca. 1918); a candid shot of him standing in the American cemetery in France (1926); an undated studio portrait of his third wife, Mary Elizabeth Green; and photographic reproductions of illustrated portraits of Schomburg by Albert Smith (1928) and Richard Brent (ca. 1938), and of a portrait painting by Pastor Argudín (ca. 1939). Also included are candid group portraits of Schomburg's adult sons (ca. 1950s); a group portrait of Kingsley Schomburg and younger members of the family (ca. 1980s), and some exterior views of the Schomburg home at 105 Kosciusko Street, Brooklyn, New York (ca. 1930s).
The civic and professional activities series includes two group portraits of Schomburg and fellow Freemasons of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge gathered in front of Mother A.M.E. Zion Church in Harlem (1919); Schomburg, with wife Elizabeth and Harry A. Williamson, at a banquet honoring Liberian President-elect C.D.B. King, at Anderson's Assembly Rooms, New York (1919); in a group portrait of Masons and Odd Fellows at the cornerstone laying of the Ionic Hall, Brooklyn, New York (1922); attending the funeral of journalist John E. Bruce, with Marcus Garvey also in attendance (1924); in a contemporary cartoon, from the New York Liberator, depicting him discovering a painting by Juan de Perega, an artist and slave to Spanish artist Velazquez (1930); with artist Aaron Douglas viewing Douglas's painting "Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers" (1934); Schomburg, in a group portrait with librarian Catherine Latimer, educator James E. Allen and other civic leaders and library staff, at the 135th Street Branch Library of the New York Public Library (ca. 1930s); and standing in the reading room of the 135th Street Branch Library (1936).
The General series includes a group of scrapbook pages depicting Schomburg's trip to Seville and Madrid, Spain, and Paris and Rheims, France in 1926, which also depicts a section of Seville inhabited by the descendants of sixteenth century slaves known as the Negro Brotherhood of Seville. The series also includes a group of photographic reproductions of Schomburg's passport and visas used for his 1926 trip to Europe; a group of snapshots of Boty, a friend of Schomburg's since the 1880s in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at his home in Hawaii (1934-1936); photographic reproductions of an Opportunity magazine article about the opening of Schomburg's collection to the public (1926) and an invitation to a viewing of the Schomburg Collection at the 135th Street Branch library (1927); a news clipping of Schomburg's obituary from the New York Times (1938); and an exterior view of the Bankers Trust Company (ca. 1920s) where Schomburg worked for 23 years.
The series also includes a group of studio portraits, many of them inscribed, of Schomburg's friends and professional acquaintances including bibliophile and historian William C. Bolivar (ca. 1913), journalist John E. Bruce (inscribed Bruce Grit) (n.d.), Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén (1932), composer W.C. Handy (1937), and philosopher Alain Locke (1911), as well as a candid portrait of Freemason historian Harry A. Williamson (ca. 1930s) and a group portrait of the Puerto Rican section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Cubano) (1896).
Also depicted are views, from a contact sheet, of the Arthur A. Schomburg Intermediate School in Harlem (ca. 1980s); a photographic reproduction of the frontispiece from the Dutch 1712 edition of Jacobus Capitein's dissertation from Schomburg's original collection; and a photographic reproduction of a stereograph of Calle de San Jose, San Juan, Puerto Rico (ca. 1900) near where Schomburg may have gone to school.
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.