Arthur Schomburg, who’s been called “the Sherlock Holmes of Black History” for the extensive research that went into his collection of texts and images, was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was there that he developed an intense interest in the history of fellow African-Americans. After collect¬ ing for years, he carried his wide body of historical documentation from the Virgin Islands, where he attended St. Thomas Col¬ lege, to the United States in 1891.
Schomburg worked in a law office while collecting more documents, but left the company in 1906 to join the Bankers Trust Company. Staying until his retirement in 1929, Schomburg continued his research while collaborating with some of the era’s greatest African-American leaders.
In 1911, Schomburg and John E. Bruce founded the Negro Society for Historical Research, and in 1922, Schomburg was made president of the American Negro Academy, the first American group of African-American intellectuals.Schomburg’s interest in history was not just for the sake of knowl¬ edge, but for the sake of African- American identity and pride.
His ideas were eloquently outlined in an essay published in 1925 entitled “The Negro Digs Up His Past,” in which he stated the theories proved by history, but ignored: that the Negro has actively pursued freedom and advancement, that brilliant African- American thinkers have been treated as exceptions and the race has not been credited with their achieve¬ ments, and that racially, Negroes achieved a credible, scientifically successful society without the influ¬ ence of white leaders.
In order to make these assertions known, Schomburg felt that history was a tool to be used, and to be usedskillfully. His collection, made up of thou¬ sands of documents and artifacts, was exceptional. In 1925, the New York Public Library dedicated a branch to Negro litera¬ ture and history, and in 1926, over 5,000 items were bought by the Carnegie Corpo¬ ration and donated to the branch.
When Schomburg retired, Fisk Universi¬ ty made him curator of their Negro collec¬ tion, until 1932, when the Carnegie Corpo¬ ration made it possible for the New York Public Library to hire him as curator at the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints, where his collection was still housed.
Schomburg continued to add to the col¬ lection, and after his death, its name was changed to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where there are now over five million artifacts, photos and manuscripts, and over 100,000 books on African-American history.