Arthur Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938): embracing the black motherhood experience in love of black people.
Despite the fact that Schomburg had spent many years collecting many of theses rare items which he had sold to the NYPL, and would had been more than qualified to be the curator of them, some African-American academicians, particularly W.E.B DuBois, tried to stop his appointment. Looking back, one could ask why anyone would try to stop Schomburg from being the curator of his own collection, which he had sold to the NYPL. The main reason is because Schomburg did not possess a college degree. DuBois and other academicians tried to stop the appointment of Schomburg because they felt he was not qualified to do the job without a college degree. Schomburg may not have acquired a college degree nor had the professional training Du Bois was privileged to have in his lifetime, but did this mean that Schomburg could not be considered a scholar or intellectual? (3)
This article seeks to address several questions. What constitutes authority concerning scholarship amongst African-Americans, and is our definition of what an intellectual is defined by the standards of a white-dominated American academy? Do African-American scholars have a history of maligning other African-Americans without PhDs? I believe Schomburg's sheds light on these issues concerning what is an intellectual. A key argument here is that intellectual authority is not always predicated on professional trained in the academy. Along with other people of different ethnicities throughout the world, people of African descent in America have a long tradition of non-academic intellectuals who were committed to the life of the mind, and worked towards the best of humanist traditions. Schomburg's dedication to people of African descent in collecting Africana books and artifacts, and sharing his tremendous knowledge with others, represents the perfect example of the life of the mind and working towards sharing the best of humanist traditions. In this article, I will examine Schomburg's personal development as a Pan-Africanist scholar, his contribution to the Black history movement, and his involvement in local research societies in Harlem and Brooklyn, New York. I will argue that Schomburg was not only an intellectual, but building upon Winston James' suggestion, I will seek to show that Schomburg's life long commitment to people of African descent can be directly traced back to the influence of his Black mother. (4)
Schomburg was born in Puerto Rico on January 24, 1874 to Mary Joseph, a thirty year-old soltera (unmarried) black migrant worker from St. Croix. Carlos Federica Schomburg, his father, was the son of a second-generation German immigrant and a Puerto Rican woman. Schomburg never really knew his father well because his parents never married, and he was raised primarily by his mother. Being raised by his mother had a tremendous influence on Schomburg's worldview about black people from early on in his life, as his biographer Elinor Des Verney Sinnette writes: "It is evident that Schomburg held his mother and maternal grandparents in high esteem. Mary Joseph was the person who exerted the greatest influence on his life through her 'painstaking and faithful ideas of womanhood ... being a loving mother of high and pure character.'" Schomburg's first impressions of Africa symbolically came from his mother; this is something that must not be taken for granted in assessing the origin of his love for Africa and her descendants. James has suggested that young Schomburg probably spent time in the Virgin Islands and more than likely was well-acquainted with his maternal relatives. While there were many people in Puerto Rico with black parents, what makes Schomburg's case so special is that culturally his mother was not a native of Puerto Rico. Even though Schomburg's maternal family was Episcopalian, he must have seen remnants of African cultural practices that were transmitted from Africa to St. Croix and the Virgin Islands that were different and stronger than those were practiced in Puerto Rico. (5)
The fact that St. Croix had a predominate black population meant that stronger African cultural traits were more than likely more influential on his maternal family side than what he may have seen outside of his house growing up in Puerto Rico. As a child growing up, consciously and unconsciously, Schomburg saw Africa and her descendants through his mother and her relatives. In addition, the love and the positive reinforcement that Mary Joseph showed and expressed to her son needs to be considered. Sinnette relates, "His fifth-grade teacher is said to have told him that black people had no history, no heroes, no great moments--and because of that remark the young Arturo became fired with ambition to find evidence of his past." This incident may have given the young Schomburg the ambition and motivation to prove that his was teacher wrong, but what needs to be considered is that more than likely he told his mother about the incident, and more than likely she supported and encouraged her son to refute the racist thinking of his teacher. It can also be assumed that Schomburg's mother was very encouraging and supportive in his decision to join one of the many youth clubs in Puerto Rico. (6)
The young Schomburg joined a literary club that had a very special interest in history. Even though color prejudice in Puerto Rico was not as intense as in America, Schomburg remembered that the young white-Hispanics and mixed-race students who were near white in appearance had a tendency to point to the achievements of their ancestors without mentioning anything people of African descent had accomplished in Puerto Rico. The young Schomburg decided then to thoroughly read and study the achievements of blacks in Puerto Rico, and was later able to equally boast that Black people in Puerto Rico were just as important as white people. Moreover something else happened that sparked the interest of what could be considered the young Schomburg's first attempt to systematically study people of African descent from an Afro-Caribbean perspective. (7)
There finally developed a kind of historic rivalry between the club members, and Mr. Schomburg finally found his research extending to the Virgin Islands, Haiti, San Domingo, Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean. Later, when he came to America, he began to seriously follow his hobby, and finally began to systematically collect books on the Negro from all over the world. (8)
The intense historic rivalry that developed between Schomburg and his peers was carried outside the limits of Puerto Rico and allowed Schomburg to study the achievements of Blacks throughout the Caribbean.
It can be assumed from the decisions Schomburg made later in his life that his mother was very supportive of his earlier quest to search out and study the contributions black people made in Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean. In fact, it is my contention that his mother's strong example later influenced Schomburg's decision to marry three different African-American during his lifetime. I am convinced that being raise by Mary Joseph, his early childhood experience with his teacher and childhood peers, and the cultural upbringing he received from his maternal family laid the foundational love he had for Africa and its descents throughout the Atlantic Diaspora. Furthermore, it laid the underpinning for his Afro-Latin and Pan-African worldview, his early political activism with other Afro-Latinos in New York, and his later involvement with African-American organizations. Schomburg's positive sense of people of African descent had already been developing before he immigrated to America. This should not be taken for granted, especially given the fact that later on he disassociates himself from the Puerto Rican and Cuban movement with which he was involved earlier. (9)
Schomburg arrived in New York on April 17, 1891, and settled in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan, where he quickly blended in with many other Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants. After working various jobs as an elevator operator, bellhop, printer, and porter, Schomburg eventually in 1901 found employment at the law firm of Roger Pryor, Mellis, and Harris (General Roger A. Pry was a former Civil War officer). As a messenger, Schomburg did exceptional clerical and research for the firm and remained employed there until 1906. After leaving Pryor, Mellis, and Harries, Schomburg found another job as bank messenger for the Wall Street firm Banker Trust Company. He remained there for twenty-three years until he retired on a medical disability. (10)
In 1892, Schomburg became a prominent figure of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano, and was the secretary of the small revolutionary club called "Las Dos Antillas." The Las Dos Antillas were a group of Puerto Rican and Cuban revolutionaries who collected weapons, medicine, and funds to support the. independence movement of Puerto Rico and Cuba. Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof notes that, "Along with 'Borinquen,' led by Sotero Figueroa, and a women's club called 'Mercedes Varona,' Las Dos Antillas was one of only three revolutionary clubs created by the Puerto Rican enclave within the New York Cuban community." During the next six years of his life Schomburg and other Puerto Rican and Cuban nationalists were motivated by Cuban revolutionary leaders like Jose Marti, who lost his life in the struggle for independence against Spain in 1895. Marti and the mulatto Cuban general Antonio Maceo, who also lost his life in 1896, had become symbols for freedom, racial advancement, and social transformation in Cuba. In 1898, three years after Marti's death the American Government declared war with Spain, and within the same year Spain had surrendered and relinquished Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to America. The loss of both Marti and Maceo and American involvement in the American-Spanish War were unforeseen events that had a tremendous impact on revolutionary leaders in both Cuba and New York. Furthermore, the sinking of the Maine in February of 1898, led to the invasion by both Puerto Rico and Cuba. (11)
These unanticipated events caused a lot of tension amongst Puerto Rican and Cuban nationalists and exiled revolutionaries Cubans who immigrated to New York. The young Schomburg became very disillusioned with the nationalist revolutionary party, and on August 2, 1898, participated in his last meeting, listening to the frustration and dismal hopes of this political movement. Furthermore, James explains that: "Schomburg was also appalled by the moral deterioration of the Cuban nationalist movement in the absence of Marti and Maceo, and the overt racism that had come to the fore under the leadership of Tomas Estrada Palma. Estrada Palma's craven capitulation to the racism of the American occupiers in Cuba must have hurt Schomburg." With all of these events happening within the Latino movement in New York and Cuba, a few scholars have suggested that this was a turning point in Schomburg's life, pushing him toward a more total embrace of African-American and African-Caribbean people after 1898. In fact, Hoffnung-Garskof suggests that this is the most compelling and unusual move in Schomburg's life and with good reason. During the late nineteenth century many Afro-Puerto Rican migrants distanced themselves from African-Americans precisely because of the anti-black racial discrimination. (12)
I have suggested that the young Schomburg symbolically saw Africa through his mother growing up in Puerto Rico, and apparently she and his maternal family had a very strong influence on his life. Again, I argue that this can be seen in the fact that all three of Schomburg's wives were African-American women. This must not be taken for granted because Schomburg could have easily distanced himself from African Americans and assimilated into both the Puerto Rican and Cuban worlds. Because Schomburg was intensely involved politically with Puerto Rican and Cuban nationalists, it appears likely that he might have at least thought about marrying a Latina. But this was not the case. On June 30, 1895, before his departure from the Cuban Revolution Party, he married the young Virginian Bessie Elizabeth Hatcher. Schomburg and his first wife resided in the all black neighborhood known as San Juan Hill with other Puerto Rican nationalists. However, in 1900 Bessie Elizabeth Hatcher died leaving Schomburg with three sons. Despite this misfortune Schomburg, in 1902, married another African American woman named Elizabeth Morrow Taylor of Williamsburg, North Carolina. Unfortunately she also died prematurely, leaving Schomburg two more sons. Once again, around 1914, Schomburg married another African American woman named Elizabeth Green. (13)
For two reasons, the fact that Schomburg turned his life over completely in 1898 to embrace the life and struggles of African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans in New York should not come as a surprise. First, Schomburg never really left or abandoned black people in his early years in America. The fact that he married an African-American in 1895 reinforced his love for black people, and his involvement within the black community. Second, after arriving in America Schomburg never forgot that Mary Joseph supported his desire to challenge his peers in youth clubs and to look for evidence that black people had made historical contributions to Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. More importantly she imbued him with the view that being a person of African descent was a fact to be proud of. Schomburg could not have developed his Afro-Latino or Pan-Africanist outlook without this maternal influence. (14)
FROM INSPIRATIONAL MOTHER TO INTELLECTUAL FATHER: JOHN EDWARD BRUCE (1856-1924)
In 1898 Schomburg may have completely dissociated himself from the Puerto Rican and Cuban movement to dedicate his life to people of African descent, but this was not the first time that Schomburg had started making alliances with other African-Hispanics or African-Caribbeans outside of his own home. In 1892, Schomburg became a freemason of the Brooklyn-based El Sol de Cuba Lodge Number 38. This secret society was originally started in 1881 by a group of Latino brothers who broke away in 1880 from two Black lodges identified as the Celestial and Mt. Olive. Schomburg's membership within the freemasonry secret society allowed him to further develop the secretarial and book collecting skills that he would use later in all black organizations in which he participated. For example, Schomburg started collecting books, documents, and other artifacts that related to Black Masonic history and people of African descent throughout the Atlantic Diaspora. More importantly, the fact Schomburg did not have a college degree, was not as important to his ability to successfully rise within the hierarchy of this respectable ancient secret society without having academic credentials. Furthermore, he did not have to worry about having the opportunity to demonstrate his administrative skills that may have been denied to him in a white organization. (15)
By 1911, Schomburg had risen from the position of secretary to Master Lodge. That same year El Sol de Cuba was renamed Prince Hall Lodge in honor of Prince Hall, the first official Black Mason in America. Schomburg also became the editor of the Transaction, a Black Masonic journal, and by 1918 he became the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the state of New York, a position he kept until 1926. Schomburg's rise within Freemasonry coincided with the racial alteration that had occurred from the inception of El Sol de Cuba Lodge in 1881 to that of Prince Hall Lodge of 1911. It is not known how many black or Latino men were initially members in 1881, but after 1911 most of the Prince Hall Lodge members were people of African descent. By 1898, membership in El Sol de Cuba had begun to decline, but in 1911 Schomburg, more than likely with the support of his friend John Edward Bruce (1856-1924), who was also a Freemason, voted to support Master C.E. Cyril's ambition to recruit more people of African descent in the Lodge. (16)
It cannot be overstressed that no one had more of an influence on Schomburg's intellectual, racial, and Pan-African views than Bruce. Bruce was a politician, journalist, self-trained historian, and bibliophile, and arguably one of the most important race men in America during early twentieth century. Known as "Bruce Grit" by his contemporaries, Bruce was not an advocate of integration, very skeptical of mulattos who did not identify themselves with black people, believed in black racial redemption, and at the end of life was a staunch supporter and honored official of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), organized by Marcus Garvey (1887-1940). Schomburg met Bruce through his freemason affiliation and their relationship lasted until Bruce's death in 1924. Bruce inherited his racial ideas from prominent nineteenth century race men such as Martin Delany (1812-1885) and Henry Highland Garnett (1815-1882) who both stressed the obligation of black men to work for the advancement of the black race; Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912) who stressed the importance of African culture and history; and Alexander Crummell (1819-1898) who stressed the intellectual battle for racial liberation from white supremacy. Over the years Bruce became Schomburg's mentor and best friend, but most importantly he symbolically became the father that Schomburg never had in his life. Essentially, Bruce became the perfect complement to Schomburg's mother in the sense that Bruce's dedication and race consciousness complemented the love Mary Joseph taught her son to have for black people, especially women of African descent. (17)
Bruce's dedication to support for black women during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is crucial in understanding Schomburg's racial vision for people of African descent throughout the Atlantic Diaspora. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bruce was a big supporter of black women organizations and black women's in America. He believed the effects of American slavery had seriously damaged the African-American family, and in order to uplift the race the role of women had to be reconsidered. This kind of thinking must have been very influential in Schomburg's own interaction with women in his own life, especially in his support for black women's organizations for people of African descent. (18)
On April 18, 1911, at the home of Bruce in Yonkers, New York, Bruce, David Bryant Fulton, William Earnest Braxton, and W. Wesley Weeks founded The Negro Society for Historical Research (NSHR). Although Schomburg did not attend the first meeting of the NSRH he became the secretary and treasure of the organization. The poet and novelists Claude McKay (1889-1948) a contemporary of Schomburg informed the Federal Writers Project, "The aim of the society was to make New York a cultural and intellectual center for the promotion of research work and the collecting of literacy and art items by and about Negroes from all over the world." Moreover, they instituted a circulating library with a bureau of race information written by black people and their supporters for the advancement of the race. (19)
The NSHR promoted the collecting and preserving of Black Diaspora documents, and became pioneers in the early development of African and African American studies. Even though NSRH has been mentioned before by scholars who have written about the life of Bruce and Schomburg, no one has explored the important fact that there appear to have been at least six black women who were members of the NSRH. Even though five of the six women were listed as corresponding members, the importance of Schomburg and Bruce including women in the collection and dissemination of historical information to help vindicate people of African descent from late nineteenth and early twentieth century of Eurocentric scholarship should not be taken lightly. The NSRH was instrumental in loaning out books, photographs and other data to professional and non-professional African-American authors such as Carter G. Woodson and William H. Ferris for their publications. Although Schomburg was not listed as the NSRH librarian, he kept all of their books and other artifacts with his own collection at his home. In 1912, Bruce proclaimed that NSRH had accumulated twelve hundred rare books. Both Bruce and Schomburg were very supportive of Ferris scholarship, and he was one of the many scholars to whom they loaned material. (20) One of Bruce's biographers William Seraile asserts:
In this vein, Bruce and Arthur Schomburg also helped William H. Ferris complete his two-volume study, The African Abroad. They provided valuable data and photographs, including one of the father of Alexander Dumas, the great black French writer. Bruce was particularly pleased with Ferris' call for black writers to return to their cultural roots, for in "assimilating the culture and traditions of Anglo Saxons they ... [had lost] their rich and luxuriant African heritage. (21)
In direct contrast to Ferris, Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), a Harvard Ph.D. trained historian, did not acknowledge the help that Schomburg gave him in putting together his book The Negro in Our History (1922). In 1915 Woodson had established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), and a year later he started publishing the scholarly Journal of Negro History. Because Woodson was a professionally trained historian both his organization and journal symbolized a serious move towards legitimizing African and African history in the academy. Although both Schomburg and Bruce were very supportive of Woodson's goals in legitimizing African and African American history, they were both dismayed at Woodson's reluctance to acknowledge Schomburg's having granting access to his personal library. Woodson was able to get philanthropic financial support for his organization and journal that Bruce and Schomburg could not get for the NSRH. This caused Schomburg to exclaim "they are stealing out thunder in which we were pioneers." Schomburg was right about Woodson's organization and journal getting more recognition the NSRH, and in many ways ASNLH duplicated many of the objectives of the NSRH. Nevertheless, this was neither the first nor last time that Bruce and Schomburg worked together to collect and disseminate historical information about people of African descent throughout the Atlantic Diaspora. (22)
The Prince Hall Lodge and the NSRH were not the only organizations that Schomburg and Bruce were associated with together during their lifetimes. They were also involved in other local research societies in Harlem and Brooklyn such as the Men's Sunday Club; Negro Library Association; Loyal Order of the Sons of Africa an outgrowth of the Sons of Africa; Negro Book Collectors Exchange (One time Meeting), Hamitic League of the World; Pen and Pencil Club; Phalanx Club; and the Friends of Shakespeare Society. These organizations allowed Bruce and Schomburg to pursue their personal goals of collecting, writing, and understanding the black experience throughout the Atlantic Diaspora. Furthermore, it allowed both of them over the years to bond, and come into contact with other people who shared their interests. Bruce's outlook on history seriously influenced Schomburg's view of race, the meaning of history, his contribution to the early African-American history movement at the turn of the twentieth century, and most importantly his Pan-Africanist vision that evolved more after they met. (23) Another one of Bruce's biographer Ralph Crowder asserts:
He, like many of his colleagues, believed that a sound understanding of African American history legitimized Black humanity, reinforced Black pride, and underpinned Black protest and civil rights struggles. Bruce gradually gathered around him a group of younger men and women whom he counseled and whose interest in African American history he encouraged. These efforts started with the Men's Sunday Club and matured with the development of the NSRH.... Throughout his international contacts and Pan-African views, Bruce collaborated with and promoted an international network of lay scholars who advocated an interest in African and Pan-African history. (24)
Bruce had the greatest influence on Schomburg's intellectual growth; he was not only a mentor to Schomburg in his quest to pursue the historical truths of Africana history, but he also mentored other Black men and women such as the self trained historians David Bryant Fulton of the NSRH and Laura Eliza Wilkes, a Washington D.C. school teacher. Wilkes wrote two pioneering books entitled Story of Frederick Douglass (1898), the first biography about Frederick Douglass, and Missing Pages in American History, Revealing the Services of Negroes in the Early Wars in the United States, 1641-1815 (1919). Both Bruce and Schomburg must have been aware that Woodson chose neither to publicly acknowledge nor review Wilkes' Missing Pages in the Journal of Negro History, and this snubbing of a black woman mentored by Bruce may have furthered Schomburg's dislike for Woodson. Nonetheless, along with Woodson, Bruce and Schomburg should be credited as important figures in laying the foundation for the Black history movement during the early twentieth century. (25) Crowder asserts:
Bruce and these men and women laid the foundation for the broader appreciation of African American history that flourished in the 1930s and 1940s. In addition, Bruce and his colleagues championed the teaching of Negro history in Negro colleges and the numerous secondary and primary schools that served Black students. Unfortunately, these important pioneers have been overlooked when scholars chart the intellectual and historical course of acceptance for African American history as a legitimate discipline within the academy. (26)
In addition to being sometimes overlooked as an intellectual or influencing the acceptance of Africana history, Schomburg has rarely been given the attention his ideas about race consciousness, and his involvement in Pan-African activities demand. Needless to say, his ideas about race consciousness and Pan-Africanism developed as his intellectual friendship with Bruce grew over the years. Schomburg referred to the NSRH as an "organizational expression of pan-Africanism." Bruce's Pan-African vision of the NSRH was the dissemination of historical information throughout the Diaspora that would show that continental Africans had a history that antedated the coming to Africa of the so-called proud Anglo-Saxon race. Furthermore, Schomburg envisioned the NSRH would establish branch affiliates throughout the Diaspora, and that their organization would help facilitate the independence of African countries from colonialism. The fact that Bruce embraced Schomburg, a mulatto, and was able to mentor him must not be taken for granted. As mentioned earlier, Bruce was very skeptical of mulattos who tried to deny their African ancestry. (27) In evaluating Bruce's overall racial view of African-Americans, Seraile states:
Bruce was a lifelong foe of those within his race who sought to use a light complexion to escape from a "Negro" identity. These "milk bastards" and their rejection of black culture became the particular objects of his scorn. He would lash out viciously against those African Americans with class bias who sought to distance themselves from the masses. This explains his earlier ridicule of Washington's colored society and its stress on straight hair, fair complexions, and non-Negroid features. (28)
Fortunately Schomburg never fit the stereotypical light-skinned Black person that Bruce despised. Bruce must have admired the love that Schomburg expressed for people of African descent and his dedication to their racial needs during this era of European colonialism in Africa and extreme white supremacy America. Moreover, Bruce was well aware of other Afro-Hispanics who immigrated to America and chose to assimilate with other New York white-Hispanics in order to avoid American racism. In direct contrast, Schomburg chose not to deny his African ancestry in spite of the racism he faced during his life, and he chose to embrace Bruce as a friend, mentor and father figure. This is not to say that Schomburg may not have been influenced by other people who were bibliophiles, professional scholars, or lay historians, but Bruce became the father that he never had growing up in Puerto Rico, and as we will see Bruce's influences on Schomburg can be seen in his historical writing and Pan-African activities. (29)
SCHOMBURG THE HISTORIAN
Besides the Harvard-trained philosopher Alain Locke (1885-1954) who was a good friend of Schomburg and a corresponding member of the NSRH, most African American bibliophiles during the early twentieth century were not considered scholarly intellectuals. It appears some black scholars during Schomburg's era like Du Bois considered collecting Africana books and artifacts and being an intellectual as mutually exclusive. Schomburg has been perceived as a great black bibliophile whose collection of rare books and artifacts laid the foundation for the modern day Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. Yet Schomburg's life was about much more than collecting Africana materials to help combat ignorance and white racism. He was an intellectual even if many black scholars during his era or today would not like to admit it. Schomburg was neither a university-trained historian with the advantages that Du Bois or Woodson had, nor did he have the opportunity to learn certain research methodologies that he could have applied to his own research and writings. In spite of these handicaps, Schomburg became a self-trained historian who did do primary research during his lifetime and was able to write pioneering Africana history that is not discussed much in African-American history. (30)
According to Sinnette, "Most of Schomburg's writings lacked a broad historical understanding and tend to venerate individuals of the race who could serve as models and provide what he called 'spiritual nourishment' for the younger generation." This statement is an oversimplification of Schomburg's historical understanding of history and race concerning people of African descent in his writings. It can be argued to a certain extent that many of his articles focused on individuals of African descent that could serve as role models or vindicate people of African descent as not were not being inferior to Europeans or Euro-Americans, but this is only one part of his historical writings. Schomburg is rarely accorded recognition for the pioneering insights in his speeches and his writings concerning Africana history, culture, and race issues. Today many scholars only refer to Schomburg's well known article "The Negro Digs Up His Past" which appeared in the Harlem edition of the Survey Graphic (1925), and was republished in Locke's The New Negro (1925). (31)
In "The Negro Digs Up His Past" Schomburg contends, "History must restore what slavery took away, for it is the social damage of slavery that the present generations must repair and offset." Schomburg, like his contemporaries Bruce and Locke, believed that slavery had seriously damaged African-Americans, and the negative effects of it were still prevalent among them in every sphere of life. Essentially, Schomburg felt that American history had to be rewritten and only then would African-Americans learn and appreciate the great contributions made by people of African descent in America, Africa, and throughout the Diaspora. Schomburg called for a reinterpretation of history against the falsification of European domination that started with the European enslavement of Africans across the Atlantic:
The bigotry of civilization which is the taproot of intellectual prejudice begins far back and must be corrected. Fundamentally it has come about from the depreciation of Africa which has sprung up from ignorance of her true role and position in human history and the early development of culture. The Negro has been a man without a history because he has been considered a man without a worthy culture." (32)
Schomburg not only believed that American history had to be reinterpreted but he also thought that the history of African-Americans and other people of African descent throughout the Diaspora should not be separated from Africa. "Schomburg considered Africa the ancestral homeland of the black race and believed that until black historians accepted this fact and began to research from that continent out into Europe, Asia, and the Americas, their work would be only half complete." In agreement with Locke, "Schomburg believed it was important to examine both the African roots and the universality of the black man's history." Schomburg's beliefs in the African roots of people of African descent throughout the Diaspora can be seen as a precursor to African Diapsora Studies in the academy. Yet, Schomburg is hardly mentioned as being an early pioneer in the discourse of African Diaspora studies because some scholars have only focused on him as being a great black bibliophile rather than a thinker. Even though Sinnette believes most of Schomburg writings lacked a broad historical understanding, she does point out an important fact concerning his position on race. (33)
Schomburg regarded the so-called race question or race problem as universal, as he illustrated in one of his presidential addresses before the American Negro Academy entitled "Racial Outlook from a World View." Another paper delivered in the Rankin Chapel at Howard University in 1920 was "The Negro as a Soldier in the Civilization of America," in which he theorized that the struggle of blacks against racism would eventually bring about racial harmony and truly civilize the Western world. (34)
Schomburg became a member of the American Negro Academy (ANA 1897-1928) on the recommendation of Bruce in 1914. The ANA was established on March 5, 1897, in Washington D.C, by Alexander Crummell (1819-1898) who believed that the ANA would lead by example, touting black racial progress towards a higher civilization. A civilization based upon replicating and honoring Anglophile Victorian mores in black face, Crummell was the quintessential Black Anglophile who saw African and rural South culture in America as backwards. Crummell's biographer Wilson Moses says, "It stressed a perceived need for black people to stand on their own feet and earn a place of respect in the world. They must make a group contribution to the development of American culture and civilization." Crummell put forth the first undertaking of the organization in his address entitled "Civilization, The Primal Need of the Race." He said, "My answer is the civilization of the Negro race in the United States, by the scientific process of literature, art, and philosophy, through the agency of the cultured men of this same Negro race." Furthermore, another major aim of the ANA was to oppose the rise of Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Machine. Some of its original members included W.E. B. Du Bois, William Ferris, John Cromwell, and John E. Bruce. The ANA was recognized by other prominent black people throughout the Diaspora who saw it as a way of addressing the ongoing legacy of slavery and racial hostilities of white racism in America. In 1920, Schomburg became the fifth president of the ANA and maintained that position until its demise in 1928. (35)
In December, 1915, Schomburg presented a paper to the ANA entitled "Economic Contribution by the Negro to America." Alfred Moss calls it rambling, disjointed, and one of the least impressive papers published by the ANA. Yet, one must consider it within the context of other ANA publications? In many ways some of the historical topics Schomburg raised in his paper could be viewed as precursors to what a few historians wrote about during his lifetime and after his death. Schomburg vehemently argued against the falsification of history in which no historian or economist and acknowledged Africans agency for economically laying the foundation for European wealth in the Americas. Schomburg refers to Europeans as "parasites" living in a paradise cleared by the hands of African people. Schomburg spoke about the trials and tribulations of Africans in the Caribbean and North and South America. Moreover, he brings to our attention the possibility that Africans were here in the Americas before the coming of the Europeans. Concerning Balboa's expedition in Central America Schomburg says, "He was carried to the mainland of Panama, where Balboa was surprised to find a colony of Negroes whose origin has baffled the minds of the most learned men of the age. To this day no solution has been found for the problem of the coming of these Negroes of Quareca." (36)
Schomburg then hypothesized that it is not inconceivable to believe that Africans from the Congo and Guinea region of Africa may have crossed the Atlantic Ocean through the support of trade winds that blow from east to west. Schomburg postulated his ideas about the African presence in the Americas sixty-one years before the appearance of Ivan Van Sertima's They Came Before Columbus (1976). Schomburg further argues against the false claim that Africans were lazy, indolent, and disloyal; he points to the Caribbean and South America to debunk those arguments. Even though Schomburg did not feel a dollar amount could be put on the price of slavery, he indirectly made an argument for reparations in the sense that Africans were never paid for the work they did. Once again he is also provocative in describing Europeans. (37) He contended that
... to support monarchies and provide pleasure for parasites, all this depended upon the unrequited toil of Negroes, which cannot be computed in dollars and cents because it would form a ladder, like Jacob's which would reach to the very gates of Heaven. (38)
In addition, Schomburg spoke about the redeeming qualities that many enslaved Africans possessed, working in the worst conditions and being able to rise above them through the spirit of music and chants. "Whereas the Indians gave away under the milder system of slavery, the Negroes grew stronger under its despotism." Attention is also given to the retention of African cultural practices of story telling, which he calls "the heritage of African minds." Schomburg's passing reference to African music and storytelling in slave culture in the Americas should be viewed as foreshadowing the later works of Melvin Herskovits and Sterling Stuckey. If we consider some of the important topics Schomburg spoke about in his paper concerning African people in the Americas one would have to really wonder if other members in the ANA felt it was one of the least impressive papers published. Schomburg's ANA paper ably critiqued certain falsifications of Eurocentric scholarship and gave Africans an agency that was denied to them in contemporary Euro-American scholarship. (39)
Schomburg not only critiqued this falsification of history, but he also called for black people to take the lead writing Africana history. In an article entitled "From 'Racial Integrity': A Plea for the Establishment of a Chair of Negro History," Schomburg listed important black authors (men and women) throughout the Diaspora who made important contributions in writing about the Africana experience throughout the Diaspora. Even though Schomburg was aware of a few white authors who told the truth about the black people, he felt time had come that black people should not depend on white scholars to write their history in the future:
We have reached a crucial point of educational existence. I have shown by a few examples of the past available and useful material upon which we can base our future structure. We have chairs of almost everything, and I believe we lack nothing, but we sadly need a chair of Negro history. The white institutions have their chair of history; it is the history of their people, and when ever the Negro is mentioned in the text-books it dwindle down to a footnote. (40)
Schomburg shared the opinions of many close friends and contemporaries such as Bruce, Locke, Ferris, Du Bois, and Woodson. He says, "We are at the mercy of the 'floatsome and jetsam; of white writers." In addition to this statement what makes Schomburg's article important is not that he called for black historians who could reinterpret the life experiences of black people in Africa and throughout the Diaspora, but that he did not care if that historian was formally trained in the academy or a self-trained historian. He asserted, "We need in the coming dawn the man who will give us the background of our future; it matters not whether he comes from the cloister of the university or the rank and file of the fields." As far as Schomburg was concerned the truth was not predicated on having an academic degree. Schomburg lived in an era when many black men and women without degrees wrote pioneering Africana history that countered and debunked white racist scholarship. This must have had a big influence on Schomburg's belief that the reinterpretation of Africana history did not have to be led by a professionally trained cadre from the academy. Many prominent black people with degrees sought his advice on history, and he was the silent-co-author of many scholarly works, even though he did not have an academic degree. (41)
In an article entitled "African Exploration" Schomburg criticizes European imperialism in Africa for the exploitation that many Africans endured during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Schomburg again makes another argument for reparations that Africans in Africa deserve for making Europeans rich at the expense of their misery. "The whole of Africa has suffered ignominiously at the hands of European nations for inexcusable reasons. There is no documentary evidence of any payment tendered for the acquisition of immense territories. We need not open the ulcer for public view." Schomburg also connects European domination in Africa with the falsification of African history. He points out that "Africa has been a closed book" even though its ancient people in the Nile Valley, Black Africans gave the world some of the greatest treasures ever found in the world, like the tomb of King Tut-Ankh-Amen in Luxor, Egypt. Schomburg's mentioning of the Howard Carter excavation of King Tut-Ankh-Amen in 1924 is an event that he was indirectly involved in himself. Both Schomburg and Bruce were directly responsible for soliciting funds and persuading Howard University to send Locke to be an representative of their school and the NSRH at the reopening of King Tut-Ankh-Amen tomb. Schomburg says, "What Howard Carter has done in the Valley of the Kings is just the beginning of greater unfolding in future excavations. From the bosom of Black Africa, we are to see the other, greater deeds that will be called marvelous, when Ethiopia stretches out her hands to God." (42)
Schomburg's criticism of other Europeans activities in "African Exploration" is important because it shows his ideological and Pan-African commitment to Africa being free of European domination. In reading his criticisms one can see Bruce's influence on Schomburg's critique of European domination in Africa. One can also find other forms of Pan-Africanism in Schomburg's writings. For example, Schomburg wrote very important articles about people of African descent living in Spanish speaking countries such as Spain, Cuba, and Panama, connecting their life experiences, struggles, and contributions to other people of African descent in Africa and the Diaspora. In addition to the various Diasporic writings Schomburg completed throughout his life, he found time to support the controversial black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.IA.). Schomburg wrote for Garvey's Negro World and lectured to U.N.I.A members on Black history. Although Schomburg never shared Garvey's vision of Black people going back to Africa, he did admire Garvey's ability to inspire black people to respect themselves and support separate black institutions. (43)
During the course of his life Schomburg not only helped support men like Garvey but he also supported other prominent black authors who traveled abroad frequently. For example, the self-trained historian, anthropologist, and journalist Joel Augustus Rogers (1880-1966) was a good friend of Schomburg and for good reasons. Both men shared the same interest in history; they both immigrated to America form the Caribbean; and both had childhood experiences of white adults telling them the African race was inferior to white people. Most important, both men spent all of their lives searching for information that would vindicate the people of African descent from racist scholarship. Schomburg was very supportive of Rogers in his travels as a journalist and researcher, and wrote to Rogers when he was in Ethiopia reporting the Italian-Ethiopian War (1935-36). Rogers worked for the Pittsburgh Courier and he was the only African-American newspaper journalist to go over to Ethiopia to report on the war. Many African Americans read the articles he wrote for the Pittsburg Courier concerning the war and after the war was over Rogers came back to America and did a speaking engagement tour reporting back to African-Americans what he saw in Ethiopia. While on tour in East Hollywood, California, Schomburg sent him a letter on July 22 1936. (44) It is intriguing because Schomburg once again reveals racial allegiance and his insight into things that affect African Americans he says:
I am very glad to have the program of one of our Greek letter fraternities. I think you could stop a moment and try and tell these fraternities men that instead of imitating the Greek they should try and create a fraternity based on African letters. We have too much of the others and very little of our own.... Were you to find any unusual book written by a Negro in your travels, do not forget to obtain it for us and I will repay you for whatever expenses that might be incurred in obtaining possession of it. (45)
The letter that Schomburg wrote to Rogers reveals his racial consciousness, notably his belief in a Pan-African link between African-American and Africans. Yet Africa was not the only place that Schomburg looked to historically; he was also politically abreast of many current events that affected Africa, and like many other African Americans he protested the Italian evasion of Ethiopia in October 1935. In fact, Schomburg became actively involved in raising funds for Ethiopian War relief and was present at a going away banquet in honor of Lij Tasfaye Zaphiro, who came to America for the purpose of soliciting funds for Ethiopia War relief. Zaphiro worked at the Abyssinia mission in London and was interested in raising funds and convincing African Americans that Ethiopia's ruling elite did not consider themselves racially different from African-Americans. During the war African-Americans had differing opinions about Haile Selassie's racial attitude towards other continental black-skinned Africans and African-Americans. One of Schomburg's good friends was Dr. Willis Nathaniel Huggins (1886-1940), was a historian/activist who acquired a Ph.D. at Fordham University in 1932, taught at Bushwick High School in New York City. (46)
During the Italo-Ethiopian war Huggins became very active in protesting Benito Mussolini's revengeful aggression of his country losing a war to Ethiopia in 1896. Huggins was one of the leading African American authorities on the history of Africa, and believed at the beginning of the Italian invasion in October 1935 that Ethiopians identified themselves with African-Americans. By 1937, Huggins had apparently changed his mind about Selassie and other Ethiopian officials, and charged that they denied any racial affinity with other sub-Saharan Africans and African Americans. Furthermore, they racially and politically aligned themselves with Europeans, especially with Britain during the war. In his book co-authored with John G. Jackson entitled Introduction to African Civilizations (1937), Huggins asserted, "In reality, the recent leaders of Ethiopia are still in a racial fog. They still believe that they are of the white race, and so believing they doubly indict themselves." Schomburg knew about Huggins' activities concerning the Italo-Ethiopian War and worked closely with him on various occasions in reporting, protesting, and raising funds for the cause against Mussolini's aggression against Ethiopia. (47)
According to historian Ralph Crowder after relocating to New York in 1924 Huggins was amazingly only the sixth African American to occupy an appointed a position with the New York City public school system. Right after his appointment as a teacher Huggins fought to have Africana history included in the curriculum of New York public schools. Schomburg, Rogers, Carter G. Woodson, and W.E.B Du Bois supported Huggins initiative but the Board of Education disapproved it and rejected the inclusion of Africana history. It must have been hard for Schomburg to see the New York City's Board of Education reject the inclusion of Africana history. Yet this did not stop Schomburg, Huggins, or Rogers, or other black intellectuals from continuing their life work of educating Black New Yorkers of their true history. In response to the Board of Education, Crowder asserts that, "They then held community history classes at the Harlem YMCA located on 135th Street and occasionally in their private homes." (48)
In addition to Rogers and Huggins, Schomburg also became good friends with the Harlem Renaissance author and anthologist Langston Hughes (1902-1967). While traveling abroad in Russia, Spain, and Mexico, Hughes wrote Schomburg frequently and sent him various rare items such as books about the father of Russian literature, the mulatto Alexander Pushkin, and while in Spain a book entitled the Blue Monkey printed in Madrid. In a letter dated October 4, 1937 to Hughes, Schomburg says, "I am making a scrapbook of the various items that you have sent me from time to time from different parts of the world." Schomburg had written Hughes while he was in Spain and suggested that he should go visit the National Library at Madrid to examine the works of the sixteenth century Black Professor Juan Latino. "I hope it is still possible for you to examine the three volumes of Juan Latino that is in the National Library at Madrid, the only place where the three editions can be seen." Schomburg knew about Juan Latino because in 1926 he spent time in Spain doing research about Black people. Schomburg was not only generous in loaning out books, but he shared valuable information concerning black people with friends who traveled abroad and could maybe learn about the Africana experience outside America. (49)
Even though they were acquaintances and wrote to each other frequently Du Bois seriously underestimated Schomburg's intellectual capacity and as we have seen, tried to prevent him from receiving a job as a curator for the NYPL due to fact that he did not have a degree. This is very interesting because in direct contrast to Du Bois, the social scientist Charles S. Johnson (1893-1956) was responsible for Schomburg becoming a curator in charge of the Negro Collection at Fisk University from 1930 to 1932. Schomburg may not have had college degree but his tremendous knowledge about people of African descent throughout the Diaspora was invaluable. Schomburg dedicated his life to the mind and worked towards helping Black people realize the best of humanist traditions. The trajectory of Schomburg's life from Puerto Rico to New York is remarkable considering that after 1898 he chose to totally identify with Black People for the rest of his life. But as we have seen, this should have come as a surprise knowing that his Black mother was his greatest inspiration in life. Schomburg did not have the luxury of research assistants to help in finding rare Africana books and artifacts. Although his friends did help him attain certain items, he was not able to obtain philanthropic funding to go out and seek rare books about the experience of Black people throughout the Atlantic Diaspora. Former NYPL librarian and curator Ernest Kaiser emphasizes:
Over the years he searched indefatigably the book marts of Europe, Latin America, and United States, and by 1926 had a collection of over 500 books, 3000 manuscripts, 2000 etchings, and several thousands pamphlets ... (50)
What makes Schomburg's situation remarkable is that he did most of this while holding down a full time job working for the Bankers Trust Company on Wall Street from 1906 to 1929, not to mention that he was involved in various local research societies, lectured to local organizations like the U.N.I.A, and found time to write about Africa and its people throughout the Diaspora.
Schomburg's commitment to become one the greatest Black bibliophiles in the twentieth century, and his desire to share his knowledge with other Black people is remarkable because he chose to identify himself as a Black person in spite of the disabilities of being identified as one in the late nineteenth century. Schomburg should be remembered as autodidactic/working class intellectual. He may not have been able to write at the same level as Du Bois, Locke, or Woodson, but he was respected by his peers for the tremendous knowledge he gained and shared about black people all over the world. Winston James best describes why Schomburg should have been considered a serious intellectual by all of his contemporaries during his era, and why we should not forget that he was one despite not having a Ph.D. after his name:
But what Schomburg lacked in expression he more than made up for in knowledge. Schomburg is often celebrated as a bibliophile, but he was much more than a bibliophile, outstanding though he was in that area of activity: Schomburg was also an outstanding scholar, even if he could not discourse with the same facility as most scholars; he operated on the basis of the most taxing criteria of intellectual rigor. He was a restless truth-seeker and he would plunge into the archives and great libraries like any self-respecting historian. (51)
In looking at Schomburg symbolically embracing his African heritage through his mother we admire him for being able to rise against the handicap of not being professionally trained in the academy. We also commend him for dedicating his life to being a positive inspiration for future black women and men who not only have the privilege to acquire an academic degree, but also might dedicate their lives to helping people of African descent in the twenty-first century.
(1). Thabiti Asukile is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of California Berkeley. He is currently writing a dissertation on the life of the historian/journalist J.A. Rogers (1880-1966).
(2). Robin D.G. Kelley, "But a Local Phase of a World Problem: Black History's Global Vision, 1883-1950" (Journal of American History, December 1999), 1057; Wilson J. Moses, Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (New York: Cambridge, 1998), 21, 85. African-American "vindicationists" believe in defending people of African descent against the charges by white scholars that they made no contributions to the history of human progress. Moses views Schomburg in the tradition of post WWI secular vindicationists whose anthropological and historic interpretation of history were different from earlier vinidicationists who used theories of history conforming to biblical history, classical mythology, or progressive Christianity. Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribben Radicalism in Early Twentieth Century America (New York: Verso Press, 1998), 209. Concerning Schomburg's life mission, James asserts, "He was far less interested in persuading white people of black people's humanity and accomplishments than in convincing black people themselves of their own worth and historical stature as members of the human family." Elinor Des Verney Sinnette, Arthur Schomburg (New York and Detroit: New York Public Library and Wayne State University, 1989), 190.
(3). Sinnette, Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, 9, 190; James, Holding Aloft the Banner, 201. Although Schomburg received a primary education in the public schools in Puerto Rico it is very unclear about him attaining a college degree before coming to the America. Schomburg may have graduated from the Instituto de Instruccion and the Instituto de Ensenanza Popular. Bernardo Vega (1855-1965) a tabaquero (cigarmaker) and organizer of the Puerto Rico movement in New York claims that Schomburg attended the Instituto d Parvulos, a Jesuit school in Puerto Rico but did not finish his education there. Winston James reports that Schomburg himself claimed to have attended St. Thomas College in the Virgins Island, but there is no record that he received and education there. However, when he arrived in America he attended night school at Manhattan Central High School, but never received an academic in America during his lifetime.
(4). James, Holding Aloft the Banner, 201, 203, 333. James states, "The key to the singularity of Schomburg as a Puerto Rican black nationalist lies in his un-Puerto Rican family background." In addition, he makes the important point in a questionnaire given to Schomburg in 1930s for the purpose of E. Franklin Frazier's study, The Negro Family in the United States (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1939), he mentioned that his mother influenced him the most in life. "She represented the 'painstaking and faithful ideas of womanhood.' To her son, Mary Joseph was 'a loving mother of high and pure idea.'"
(5). Sinnette, Schomburg, 8; James, Holding Aloft, 201, James insist, "... because of the estrangement of his parents form each other, Arturo was brought up by his mother and was thus substantially influenced by the culture of his mother's native land, the Virgin Islands." James also makes the important point that Schomburg was not raised as a Catholic like most Hispanic Caribbeans in Puerto Rico, and his own children in America were raised in a Protestant Episcopal Church.
(6). Sinnette, Schomburg, 13;
(7). Floyd J. Clavin, "Race Colleges Need Chair in Negro History" (Pittsburgh Courier, March 5, 1927).
(9). James, Holding Aloft the Banner, 202. James stresses that the young Schomburg was not raised as a Catholic but as an Episcopalian. This had a profound influence on him later on life especially when he immigrated to America, unlike other Puerto Rican and Cuban tabaqueros who were known to be freethinking and atheist in their worldview that was associated with their political radicalism.
(10). Sinnette, Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, 17, 35
(11). Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof, "The Migrations of Arturo Schomburg: On Being Antillano, Negro and Puerto Rican in New York" (Journal of American Ethnic History Volume 21, Number 1, Fall 2001) 11, Hoffnung-Garskof stresses that while Schomburg was a unique Puerto Rican, only look at his racial evolution as a black person in America at the turn of the twentieth century misrepresents the totality of his life. Furthermore, studying Schomburg's early years in America can be used as a framework for rethinking early Puerto Rican migration to America during the late nineteenth century. Sinnette, Schomburg, 22; James, Holding Aloft the Banner, 205.
(12). Sinnette, Schomburg, 22; James, Holding Aloft the Banner, 205. Sinnette, James, and Hoffnung-Garskof all see the demise of the Cuban National Movement in New York in 1898 as a turning point in Schomburg's life.
(13). Hoffnung-Garskof, "The Migrations of Arturo Schomburg," 9. Hoofhung-Garskof suggests that Schomburg must have learned North American black culture such as music, dance, jokes, folklore and other forms of kinship and social networks. Yet, we can see this as an African cultural continuation of Schomburg's early life in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. More than likely, since his first two wives were from southern states, Schomburg may have been exposed to different forms of African slave culture that survived all the way too the turn of the twentieth century. The fact, both his wives lived in New York with him does not negate that they may have both practiced many different southern cultural traditions in their new northern home.
(15). Ralph Crowder, John Edward Bruce: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora (New York: New York University, 2004), 115; Sinnette, Schomburg 26; Hoffnung-Garskof, "The Migrations of Arturo Schomburg," 29.
(16). Crowder, Bruce, 115; Hoffnung-Garskof, "The Migrations of Arturo Schomburg," 32. Hoffnung-Garskof dates the name change of Prince Hall Lodge to 1914.
(17). William Seraile, Bruce Grit: The Black Nationalist Writings of John Edward Bruce (Tennessee: The University of Tennessee Press, 2003), 122. Seraile believes that, "At times, Bruce was intent on doing what was best for his self-interest. Despite those lapses when Bruce sought to promote his own interests over those of the race, he remained steadfast in his praise of Negro identity; Crowder, Bruce, 157, Crowder informs us that, "Bruce and Schomburg also exerted considerable pressure on the Prince Hall Masons, helping make this organization one of the strongest UNIA supporters during the early 1920s. Garvey even joined the Masons with Bruce's sponsorship, but failed to attend lodge meetings on a regular basis."
(18). In today's era Bruce could be considered a strong advocate for the black "womanism" movement in America. Crowder, Bruce, 42, Bruce supported black women organizations such as White Rose Mission of New York founded by Victoria Earle Matthews, and maintained close ties with other prominent black women such as Grace Campbell, Anna Murray Douglass, Laura Eliza Wilkes, Francis Ellen Watkins, Mary Ann Shad Carey, Josephine Wilson Bruce, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. All of these women were advocates for the social and political uplift of African-Americans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
(19). William H. Ferris, The African Abroad: or His Evolution in Western Civilization Tracing His Development Under Caucasian Milieu Volume II (Connecticut: The Tuttle Morehouse & Taylor Press, 1913), 863; Claude McKay, "The Negro Historical Society of New York" Federal Writers Project New York 1936-1941, Microfilm Reel Number 3.
(20). For additional information on the membership of the NSRH see Ferris, The African Abroad, 865-866; Seraile, Bruce, 118; Crowder, Bruce, 119. A year later Ferris reported that the NSRH had only three-hundred books. Concerning the difference in how many books really belong to the NSRH, Crowder asserts, "This discrepancy may be due to the exaggerations of an ambitious leader, Bruce's tendency to include portions of Schomburg's private library with the NSHR, or simply Ferris's failure to compile and accurate count."
(21). Seraile, Bruce, 139; Ferris, African Abroad Volume I, viii, Ferris says, "I am indebted to Mr. J. E. Bruce, the president and Mr. A.A. Schomburg, the secretary of the Negro Society for the Historical, for valuable data and for all of the African, West Indian, and South American photographs, and for the portrait of Alexander Dunas, pere. For additional, information about the life of William Ferris see, Amy Jacques-Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey with an Introduction by Robert A. Hill (New York: Atheneum), xiv-1; Randall Burkett, Black Redemption: Churchmen Speak for the Garvey Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978), 65-84;Wilson Moses, Afrotopia, 169-192.
(22). Arthur A. Schomburg "Schomburg Tears Carter G. Woodson to Pieces for Historical Narrowness" Negro World, November 4, 1922. in Theodore G. Vincent and Robert Chrisman, ed. Voices of a Black Nation: Political Journalism in the Harlem Renaissance (San Francisco: 'Ramparts 'Press, 1973), 342. Schomburg writes an unfavorable review of Woodson book which is more than likely linked to Woodson not acknowledging his help. Schomburg asserts, "A charitable appreciation for those who helped Dr. Woodson with rare prints, engravings, etc., would have not in any way harmed him in the preface. It is one of the few books lacking this feature of long-established custom. Crowder, Bruce, 91-92, 106, Crowder explains: "Throughout his life often called his campaign to professionalize African American history as the "Cause." Woodson justified his passionate search to reveal, document and publish Black records because he believed that "if the race has no ... it stands in danger of being exterminated."; Seraile Bruce, 117.
(23). Crowder, Bruce, 115, Seraile, Bruce, 115-121.
(24). Crowder, Bruce, 92.
(25). Crowder, Bruce, 95. Bruce was seriously influenced to pursue history by the historical writings of George Washington William who's History of the Negro Race from 1619 to 1880: Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens (1883), which was considered the first comprehensive standard African-American history book until the appearance of John Hope Franklin's From Slavery to Freedom (1947); Laura E. Wilkes, Story of Frederick Douglass (Washington D.C. L.E. Wilkes, 1898) & Missing Pages in American History, Revealing the Services of Negroes in the Early Wars in the United States, 1641-1815 (Washington, D. C., 1919). For information of Woodson not acknowledging Wilkes' Missing Pages see, Charles Wesley, "Recollections of Carter G. Woodson," Journal of Negro History 58, no. 2 (Spring 1988), 148.
(26). Crowder, Bruce, 163
(27). Sinnette, Schomburg, 38, 43; Crowder, Bruce, 118.
(28). Seraile, Bruce, 122.
(29). Hoffnung-Garskof, "The Migrations of Arturo Schomburg," 28. Hoffnung-Garskof's article is also very important because he bring up the important issue of Afro-Hispanics trying to negotiate living between the black and white Hispanic community in New York during late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Hoffnung-Garskof says, "On the other hand several bits of evidence suggest that some Afro-Hispanics in New York did contest this distinction in the early part of the century, and even lived in spaces outside of the word dominated by white Spaniards." Other Black bibliophiles who may have had an influence on Schomburgs racial outlook in life are: Jesse E. Moreland, Henry P. Slaughter, William Carl, Bolivar, and William P. Dabney.
(30). Locke, a Harvard graduate in 1907 and the first African-American to be awarded a Rhodes scholarship, was one of the most outstanding black intellectuals of the twentieth century. He studied philosophy at University of Oxford from 1907-1910, and spent a year studying at the University of Berlin. While studying at Oxford he established the African Union Society and made many contacts with other African and Caribbean students living in England. Living overseas made Locke realize that racism was an international problem that affected black people everywhere they lived. Furthermore, like Schomburg he believed African-Americans should seriously consider giving more attention to their African heritage as the foundation for their history and culture in America. His writings on philosophy, race, culture, and world problems affecting black people are numerous. On December 9, 1907, Locke delivered to the NSRH a lecture entitled "The Question of Race Tradition," arguing that effects of slavery in America still dominated racial thinking in America. Shortly afterwards Schomburg wrote Locke and told him they must work together for the good of the race. See. Crowder, Bruce, 119-120; Sinnette, Schomburg, 44-46.
(31). Sinnette, Schomburg, 49; Arthur A. Schomburg, "The Negro Digs Up His Past" in The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader, ed. David Levering Lewis (New York: Penguin Books, 1994), 61.
(32). Arthur A. Schomburg, "The Negro Digs Up His Past", 66.
(33). Kelly "Black Global Phase", 1057-58. In addition, to many scholars focusing on Schomburg as a great bibliophile, Robin D.G. Kelley situates Schomburg as important figure in internationalizing African-American history. Kelley explains, "Few readers are aware of his fascinating account of the role of the Haitian troops in the wars for national independence in North and South America--an early example of "transnational history" published just after World War I." See, Arthur A. Schomburg, "Military Services Rendered by the Haitians in the North and South American Wars for Independence" (A.M.E. Review, Volume xxxvii, Number 4, Whole Number 148, 1921); Sinnette, "Arthur Schomburg" "Arthur Alfonso (1874-1938), Black Bibliophile and Collector" Schomburg: Black Bibliophile & Collectors: Preservers of Black History. Ed., Elinor Des Verney Sinnette, W. Paul Coates, and Thomas C. Battle (Washington D.C. Howard Univeristy, 1990), 40.
(34). Ibid., 40.
(35). Wilson J. Moses, Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (New York: Oxford Press, 1989), 263; Alexander Crummell, "Civilization, The Primal Need of the Race" Occasional Paper No. 3, The American Negro Academy Occasional Papers 1-22 (New York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1969), 3-4. Alfred Moss Jr., The American Negro Academy: Voice of the Talented Tenth (Louisiana: Louisiana State University, 1981), 222. Moss contends that the election of Schomburg as President to the ANA was an unmistakable sign of decline, and that it should have elected another prominent member who had a Ph.D. behind his name such as Kelley Miller, Edward Everett Just, or Carter G. Woodson. On the other hand, Winston James says this about Schomburg tenure as President of ANA, "... despite his making important scholarly contributions to the work of the Academy, the institution withered under Schomburg's superintendence. The Academy began its decline before Schomburg became its president, but his living in New York while the organization had its base in Washington did not help matters.
(36). Moss, ANA, 184-185; Schomburg, "The Economic Contribution by the Negro to America" ANA Occasional Papers 1-22, Occasional Papers 18 & 19, 52.
(37). See. Ivan Van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Early America (New York: Random House, 1976). Schomburg's name is rarely if ever mentioned in the scholarly discourse of the African living in America before the coming of Europeans; Schomburg, "The Economic Contribution", 54.
(38). Schomburg, "The Economic Contribution", 54.
(39). Ibid., 56, 59. See Sterling Stuckey, Slave Culture (New York: Oxford Press, 1987).
(40). Arthur A. Schomburg, "From 'Racial Integrity': A Plea for the Establishment of a Chair of Negro History" in Nancy Cunard, ed. The Negro: An Anthology (London: Wishart Company, 1934), 100. This article was originally published in 193 as one his three occasional papers with the NSRH. "Racial Integrity: A Plea for the Establishment of a Chair of Negro History in Our Schools. Colleges, Etc."
(41). Schomburg "Racial Integrity", 100-101; James, Holdding Aloft the Banner, 208, 334. In an unpublished script entitled "In Memoriam: A, "Arthur Alfonso Schomburg" Winston James says, "Alain Locke admitted that Schomburg was the 'silent co-author' of many volumes on black history and culture. But Locke said this after Schomburg was dead and buried--and in a manuscript that to this day remains unpublished. As he grew older, Schomburg increasingly resented the ingratitude, and sometimes downright intellectual dishonesty, of some of those he helped."
(42). Arthur A. Schomburg, "African Exploration" in Nancy Cunard, ed. The Negro: An Anthology (London: Wishart Company, 1934), 604,; For information of Locke being present at the reopening of King Tut-Ankh-Amen tomb see, Crowder, Bruce, 108 & Sinnette, Schomburg, 47.
(43). See Schomburg articles published in the Opportunity "West Indian Composers and Musicians" (1926), "The Negro Brotherhood of Seville" (1927), "Negroes in Seville" (1928), "Notes on Panama and the Negro" (1928). Also see, "Sebastian Gomez" (1916) and "In Quest of Juan de Pareja" (1927) published in the Crises. "Juan Latino, Magister Latinus" in Ebony and Topaz ed., Charles S. Johnson (New York: Opportunity, National Urban League, 1927). For Schomburg involvement with the U.N.I.A see, Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organization Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Improvement Association (Dover: The Majority Press, 1976), 86, James, Holding Aloft the Banner, 212-13; Sinnette, Schomburg, 29, Sinnette writes, "By no means an integrationist, during the 1930s he supported the refusal of black writers to admit a white member tot their ranks, and he favored a separate black sponsored centennial celebration for the Russian mulatto writer Alexander Pushkin."
(44). During his lifetime, Rogers did more research than any person of African descent into finding facts and popularizing Africana history. Rogers main interests were biographical essays and tracing the ancestry of people of African descent through miscegenation and intermarriage. For example, some of the titles of his self-published books and pamphlets are: As Nature Leads (1919), World's Greatest Men and Women of African Descent (1935), Sex and Race, III volumes (1941-1944), Worlds Great Men of Color, Volumes I & II (1946), and Nature Knows No Color Line (1952). Rogers did his research without the help of research assistants and traveled all over the world to find facts to show that people of African descent were not inferior to Europeans. Rogers also lectured with Schomburg to U.N.I.A members and wrote about his life accomplishments. See J.A. Rogers, "Schomburg Is The Detective of History," (July 8, 1930, Norfolk Journal and Guide); J.A. Rogers, "Arthur A. Schomburg: The Sherlock Holmes of Negro History," World's Great Men of Color Volume II (New York: Touchstone, 1996; reprint originally self-published by Rogers 1946.
(45). Schomburg to Rogers, July 22, 1936. Schomburg Papers Microfilm/Sc-Micro R-279 (New York: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture). Schomburg also wrote two other letters dated December 21, 1935 and March 11, 1936 to Rogers while he was living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
(46). Sinnette, Schomburg, 185, Joseph E. Harris, African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia 1936-1941 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1994), 83. Schomburg not only was present at Zaphiro banquet but also went to see him off at Cunard Pier in New York. For an excellent analysis of African Americans reaction to the war see, William R. Scott, The Sons of Sheba's Race: African-Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1941 (Indiana: Indiana University, 1993); Also concerning Marcus Garvey's critique of Halie Selassie see Alberto Sbacci, Legacy of Bitterness: Ethiopia and Fascist Italy, 1935-1941 (Lawrenceville, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 1997) 1-34.
(47). Willis N. Huggins & John G. Jackson, Introduction to African Civilizations: Main Currents in Ethiopian History (New York: Imprint Editions, 1999, reprint from 1937), 50; James Spady, "Willis N. Huggins: Educator, Diplomat, Historian," in Black History Museum Newsletter, by Black History Museum Committee (Volume 1, Number 3, 1971), 6, 8-9. Spady writes: "Dr. Huggins made an official trip to Geneva as a representative of the International Council of Friends of Ethiopia in America. Speaking before largely represented European countries, Dr. Huggins received more enthusiastic and prolonged applause than any several world prominent speakers when he claimed a brief but brilliant speech by declaring that 'no international Dred Scott decision can be written by fascist Roman at this late date.' (New York Times, March 12, 1936)."
(48). Before Huggins relocated to New York in 1924, Schomburg in 1920 helped him with his short lived Chicago publication the Upreach (1920-22). Information about Huggins was provided to me by historian Ralph Crowder in his forthcoming essay "Willis Nathaniel Huggins (1886-1941): Historian, Activist, and Community Mentor" in Ralph Crowder ed. Street Scholar Stepladder Radicals (New York: New University Press, 2006). According to Crowder: "When Huggins began to teach African and African American history courses at the Harlem YMCA this gathering was first called the Harlem History Club. Huggins had an established community reputation as an Africana scholar, he was a vocal advocate for incorporating African and African American history in the New York City Public School curriculum; his bookstore had been a gathering venue for Black history enthusiasts and self-trained Black historians."
(49). Arthur Schomburg to Langston Hughes, October 4, 1937, Langston Hughes Papers MSS 26, James Weldon Johnson Collection, The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Sinnette Schomburg, 93.
(50). Earnest Kaiser, "Arthur Schomburg" in Dictionary of American Negro Biography ed. Rayford Logan & Michael Winston (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982), 547.
(51). James, Holding Aloft the Banner, 207. One of Harlem's most respected self-trained African American historian during the second half of the 20th the late John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998) would have definitely agreed with James' assessment of Schomburg. Clarke was born in Union Springs, Alabama and raised in Columbus, Georgia. As an adolescent Clarke had read Schomburg's 1925 essay "The Negro Digs Up His Past" in Alain Locke's The New Negro (1925), which helped inspire him to learn Africana history. When Clarke relocated to Harlem in 1933, he sought out and met Schomburg at the 135th Branch Library. The historian Ralph Crowder writes that: "He encouraged Clarke to 'first study European history in relationship to the history of African people and their culture; and said that' he 'would never fully understand the history' of Blacks until he 'had studied world history.' When Schomburg died on June 10, 1938, Clarke was profoundly saddened by his death but committed his life to carry on the research and mission that was instilled in him by this generous and caring self-trained Black scholar." Forthcoming, Ralph Crowder, "Willis Nathaniel Huggins (1886-1941): Historian, Activist, and Community Mentor" in Ralph Crowder ed. Street Scholar Stepladder Radicals (New York: New University Press, 2006).
Thabiti Asukile (1)
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|Publication:||Afro-Americans in New York Life and History|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2006|
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