Rescuing black history: the Schomburg.
The Schomburg is among the world's treasures for people of the African Diaspora. It is the preeminent collection of works on black life and culture. We honor this capstone black library because it is far more than a vast, well-preserved, well-catalogued collection. Due to Dodson's able leadership for the past 21 years ("A Helmsman for the Cultural Legacy" page 35), the Schomburg is at once a library, an archive and an intellectual nerve center.
The feature, "Sacred Ground" on page 32, by one of our favorite contributing editors Herb Boyd, views the Schomburg through a lens that reveals lesser-known facets of the institution. If you thought it was a hushed place where solitary researchers hovered in cubicles poring over rarefied texts, that image will be replaced by the report that its corridors are quietly abuzz with intellectual exchange, scholarly sparring, academic mentoring, and the excitement of publishing the wisdom of its collection in new volumes easily accessible to the general reader, even those still in high school.
Black libraries are known for what I call "people programs." Black librarians make books live; they keep the act of reading woven into the fabric of today's lifestyles. They are the contemporary equivalent to African griots. The Schomburg's people programs reflect this practice in the highest form--from its Scholars in Residence Fellowships (the most competitive of such programs in the nation) to the Junior Scholars effort, in which high-school students are immersed in African American history and culture for 25 Saturdays. Such initiatives make the Schomburg's human collection as dynamic as the collection in its vaults.
The Schomburg's publishing program has a powerful perspective. Its books identify the critical experiences of people of the African Diaspora that everyone needs to know and tell our history from our point of view. The books show blacks as actors, documenting what people of African descent did, not just what was done to our forebears, and do not define those who were enslaved by their condition. In Schomburg volumes, blacks are a chapter of the human story, not pawns in the story of European world hegemony. Dodson well expresses this philosophy in the Introduction to Jubilee: The Emergence of African-American Culture (BIBR, January -February 2003, EYE):
"Unlike many previous accounts, it does not focus on blacks as victims. Rather, it focuses on the cultural, political, economic and social activities that enslaved Africans took in the midst of slavery to redefine themselves and their world and reshape their own destinies."
We at BIBR look forward to the Schomburg's forthcoming five-volume encyclopedia of African American history and culture (scheduled for publication in January 2006 by Macmillan).
Join me and the staff at BIBR as we salute all those involved in the Schomburg for being the keepers of our history.
William E. Cox
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|Title Annotation:||Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture|
|Author:||Cox, William E.|
|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2005|
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