Arturo Alfonso Schomburg Played an Integral Role in Founding African Studies

By Abayomi Azikiwe

Born in 1874 in Puerto Rico, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg entered a whirlwind of anti-colonial struggles which were inextricably linked to the abolition of African enslavement.

Legalized slavery in Puerto Rico and Cuba existed many years after the United States Civil War during 1861-1865. Uprisings erupted in Cuba and Puerto Rico in 1868, the same year in which the 14th Amendment was enacted by the U.S. Congress, ostensibly designed to provide full citizenship rights to African people.

During the war between the states, the-then President Abraham Lincoln, as a political and military maneuver, issued the Emancipation Proclamation taking effect on January 1, 1863. However, it would take the decisive defeat of the Confederacy in April 1865 to secure the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which was ratified by the conclusion of 1865.

Brazil,  under the monarchical rule of a largely Portuguese-dominated ruling class, did not end the enslavement of Africans until the uprisings of 1888. Although some Africans in Brazil had broken away from slavery as early as the 17th century to form their own Quilombos, independent communities in rebellion against Lisbon, the economic system of involuntary servitude would continue for centuries….

By the 1920s, Schomburg at his home in Brooklyn had accumulated tens of thousands of books, journals, articles, documents, artefacts and other materials which shed tremendous light on the role of African people in world affairs from antiquity to the 20th century. During the 1920s, a period popularly known as the Harlem Renaissance, there was a flowering of interests in African American and Pan-African culture and history. The large concentration of African people from various geo-political regions of the Western Hemisphere provided a vast community for the sharing of these documents.

By 1926, the New York Public Library would purchase the Schomburg Collection through a grant from the Carnegie Foundation which had an interest in building public libraries. Known at the time as the Negro Collection at the 135th Street branch became a permanent part of the Harlem community. Later in the 1970s, the library was renamed The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture while many of the documents were reproduced for distribution in public and university libraries in various states throughout the U.S.

Schomburg through his work in collaboration with contemporary artists and scholars such as Jessie Redmon Fauset, Langston Hughes, Charles S. Johnson, Gwendolyn Bennet, among many others, attracted the attention of Fisk University in Nashville. Charles S. Johnson of Opportunity magazine published by the National Urban League in the early years of the 20th century, went to Fisk in the late 1920s to serve as director of the Social Science division….

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg as a young man

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