Johns Hopkins University Press

This essay highlights the networks in which Arturo Schomburg was an active member throughout his life by examining several group portraits in which he appears. In this way, it counters the perception of Schomburg as isolated in his pursuit to collect evidences of Black excellence, underscoring instead that he was emblematic of the Race Men of his era.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874–1938) was a dedicated student of the histories and cultures of Black peoples across the globe whose collecting habits reveal an implicit mode of knowledge production. Scholars, students, and laypersons alike most easily acknowledge and comprehend explicit modes of assembly of information, such as articles, essays, and books; librarians, curators, archivists, and editors, among others, similarly engage in this enterprise in ways that sometimes go unrecognized because of the form in which they present the material. In the course of writing Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, I wrote a study that centered his identity as an Afro-Latino from the Spanish and Danish Caribbean as a critical foundation for his life's work. Among the archives I consulted were Schomburg's published writings, his personal correspondence, and his portraits. Allowing his photograph to be taken, I submit, complements Schomburg's lifelong project of documenting the histories and cultures of peoples of African descent from all over the world, including those countries in the Americas colonized by the Spanish empire. He literally gives face to a blackness which lies outside the norms based in the Anglophone world.

With Spanish first names and a Germanic surname, Schomburg immediately challenged preconceptions about who he was as a man, particularly as a Black man. In every picture, Schomburg calls attention to his own agency in the process of being photographed. At no point is he simply objectified, a vessel being acted upon or even complicitous in a process that does not benefit him. Instead, considering these photographs as a whole, we understand him as a subject in every frame. Images of Schomburg stand as testimony to his commitment to complicating and deepening awareness of the breadth and scope of peoples of African descent in this hemisphere; this commitment is most clearly evident in the photographs that feature him with others. These photographs in particular offer us remarkable evidence of the breadth of the networks in which he was intimately involved throughout his life.

Nicole Fleetwood writes of the relationship between photography and Black subjectivity. Summarizing the conceptualization of blackness in scholarship, she notes:

Visual representations of blacks are meant to substitute for the real experiences of black subjects. The visual manifestation of blackness through technological apparatus or through a material experience of locating blackness in public space equates with an ontological account of black subjects. Visuality, and vision to an extent, in relationship to race becomes a thing-in-itself.

(13)2

The photographs of Schomburg and his contemporaries presented in this article, then, offer visual testimony to the systems and kinship networks that peoples of African descent created as mechanisms of survival throughout this hemisphere. The article also expands on my previous work, which focuses on Schomburg's visual presentation as an individual; here, we see him more fully contextualized within larger structures created and populated by Black peoples within a legally segregated United States. [End Page 143]

Beginning at its inception in the mid-nineteenth century, US Black photographers and their subjects understood the medium of photography as a means by which they could counter white supremacist representations of their community in dominant culture. In an essay on W. E. B. Du Bois's American Negro Exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition, Deborah Willis notes that at the turn of the century,

Black photographers, whose work Du Bois drew on for the Paris Exposition, offered a provocative challenge to the blatantly stereotypical images of African Americans as inferior, unattractive, and unintelligent. Their photographs served as evidence that black Americans were as multifaceted as anyone else, and they played an important role in making the black experience visible.

Two of the most often photographed subjects of the nineteenth century, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, utilized their portraits specifically to convey their humanity, as intellectuals whose images enhanced their activism for freedom and equality for enslaved and, later, formerly enslaved African Americans.4 The photographs of Arturo Schomburg participate in this tradition; while both Douglass and Truth were known to circulate their images to argue for race equity and progress, Schomburg remained more circumspect, as there is little evidence thus far that he distributed photographs of himself. Nevertheless, he is a member of a generation who understood the power of visual imagery.

Schomburg's most well-known portrait greets visitors to the Schomburg Center of Research in Black Culture in Harlem (Fig. 1). Well-dressed and seemingly comfortable in this undated photograph, Schomburg here conveys authority and assurance. With legs crossed, left hand on his knee, his right arm leaning on the arm of the elaborately carved wooden chair, he remains removed and distant, yet keenly aware of being viewed. A review of the photographs that Deborah Willis features

Fig 1. Portrait of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, bibliophile, undated. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, 1900–1935, )
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Fig 1.

Portrait of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, bibliophile, undated. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, 1900–1935, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/84c3b888-cab5–3fb6-e040-e00a180660fa)

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in Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present (2000) reveals that this portrait of Schomburg resembles the portraiture of many Black men and women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. While there are those who look directly at the camera, many more are positioned in three-quarter pose, looking off into the distance. Here are the New Negroes—"people who were proud of their race, self-reliant, and demanded full citizenship rights" (35). Rather than represent themselves as individuals, they memorialized themselves as members of churches and of clubs, auxiliary and fraternal, as well as civic groups and political organizations.5

In writing about Schomburg's portraits in Diasporic Blackness, I concentrated on images in which he appears alone.6 The photographs reinforce the well-worn impression of Schomburg as the premier bibliophile of his day, the sole collector of works—books, pamphlets, documents, ephemera—by and about the global African diaspora. I take this occasion to more fully develop that argument, however, as the notion that Schomburg was the only one working in this way is historically inaccurate. To this point, we know little about his childhood in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and St. Croix, but at no point in his life in the United States did Arturo Schomburg work by himself. In his most well-known essay, "The Negro Digs Up His Past" (1925), Schomburg writes of a phenomenon that has subsequently befallen him: "by virtue of their being regarded as something 'exceptional,' even by friends and well-wishers, Negroes of attainment and genius have been unfairly disassociated from the group, and group credit lost accordingly" (232). As was clear from the beginning, from his arrival in New York when he was intimately involved in the causes of Cuban and Puerto Rican liberation, to his ascendancy within the world of fraternal orders, to his work as a collector, Schomburg operated within broad networks, all of which extended beyond the geographical confines of New York City.

Scholars have yet to find photographs of Schomburg with other members of the clubs affiliated with the independence movements in Puerto Rico and Cuba. I want to emphasize this point: As this special issue highlights, there is a great deal of research left to be conducted on Arturo Schomburg and his contemporaries. There may be, for example, within the archives in Havana, extant pictures of members of New York's La Liga educational collective and the political groups it spawned. Founded by Rafael Serra in lower Manhattan, La Liga saw the gathering of working-class Black men and women from Cuba and Puerto Rico who educated each other. In his outstanding study of the Black Cuban and Puerto Rican communities in New York City in the last decades of the nineteenth century, Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof writes that "this was a space of mutual aid created by ambitious artisans who were eager to make the leap to something else: to become professionals, writers, or politicians." Taking classes in "Spanish grammar, English, French, and history," in the evenings several nights a week, "they worked to reshape their patterns of speech, of orthography, of vocabulary, and of syntax, and to fill gaps in their knowledge of history, science, and literature" (Racial Migrations 51–52). In April 1892, members of La Liga, Rosendo Rodríguez and Augusto Benech, founded Las Dos Antillas, a political club populated by men from Puerto Rico and Cuba, two of the four islands of the Greater Antilles (the others being Jamaica, and Hispaniola, the home of the two independent nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). By August of that year, Benech, who had served as founding secretary of the club, stepped down to head a new group, the Club Guerrilla de Maceo, named for Antonio Maceo, the Afro-Cuban general who rose to lead his compatriots in the fight for independence from Spain.7 Benech was replaced by an eighteen-year-old Arturo Schomburg who had arrived a year earlier in April 1891 and who would serve as secretary until 1896, two years before the group dissolved at the conclusion of the Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898 (Racial Migrations 171–72; Sinnette 20–22). [End Page 145]

In addition to his membership in Las Dos Antillas, Schomburg was also involved with Club Borinquen, cofounded by Sotero Figueroa, Pachín Marín, and other Afro-Puerto Ricans in 1891, and both groups supported the efforts of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, headed by José Martí.8 Schomburg does not appear in the photographs we have of any of these groups. Dating from the following decades of his life, however, we have several images of Schomburg with his brother Masons, as Freemasonry would be the subsequent network with which he was intimately involved.9 Established by Prince Hall, a free Black man, and fourteen other free Black men in March 1775 in Boston, the fraternal order that would come to be known as the Prince Hall Masons were deeply involved in the social issues of their day, including abolition, citizenship, and education.10 Together with the Order of the Eastern Star, their auxiliary organization for women, the Freemasons, provided and continue to provide material and emotional support to Black communities throughout the United States and indeed throughout the hemisphere. Then, as now, they stepped into the breach when the nation-states of the Americas denied de jure equality and opportunity to the populations of African descent within their borders.11 Significantly, then, before he was known as a collector and archivist to the larger world, Arturo Schomburg was a prominent Freemason.

A year after his 1891 arrival in New York from Puerto Rico, Schomburg was initiated into Freemasonry at the El Sol de Cuba Lodge #38, in Brooklyn.12 The lodge itself had been founded by Cuban and Puerto Rican exiles in 1880; a predominantly Spanish-speaking organization, by the turn of the twentieth century its membership had dwindled and there was an active effort to recruit Anglophone Caribbean men.13 Twenty years after his initiation, Schomburg was elected master of the by-then renamed Prince Hall Lodge #38, and by 1918 he was the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York.14 Taken in 1919, this photograph shows Schomburg with his brother Masons of the Prince Hall Lodge on the steps of the Mother A.M.E. Zion Church in Harlem (Fig. 2). Here we see

Fig 2. Arthur A. Schomburg (far right) and Harry A. Williamson (third from left) in a group portrait with fellow members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, on the steps of Mother A.M.E. Zion Church, in Harlem, New York, 1919. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, )
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Fig 2.

Arthur A. Schomburg (far right) and Harry A. Williamson (third from left) in a group portrait with fellow members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, on the steps of Mother A.M.E. Zion Church, in Harlem, New York, 1919. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/954190d0-d41f-012f-f308–58d385a7b928)

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the lodge elders; the third man from left is Harry Albro Williamson, a close friend who served as a historian of Freemasonry.15 Wearing their Masonic regalia—aprons and breast jewels over their formalwear, yet most of them hatless, with the central figure's top hat indicating his higher rank—each man stands on the steps of the founding church of the African Methodist Episcopal congregation in the state of New York, established in 1796.16 While Williamson and most of the other men face the camera directly, standing at attention, both Schomburg and the unidentified man in the center pivot, Schomburg turning slightly to his right in a three-quarter pose. With the exception of the central figure and the man to the left, the brothers, including Schomburg, hold their hands behind them, presumably out of deference to their higher-ranking brother. While his pose is not strictly identical to those of the other brothers on the steps, nevertheless we see by his outerwear and his posture that Schomburg places himself within the ranking order with the members of the fraternal order to which he belonged.

Another photograph of Schomburg and his fellow Masons was taken three years later, in 1922, at the commemoration of a new lodge (Fig. 3). Joined by members of the Odd Fellows, another fraternal order,17 along with women who may have been wives of these men and members of their auxiliary, Household of Ruth, the subjects of this photograph express their race pride, leadership, and self-possession through dress. Martin Summers writes that Masonic garb communicated class status: "Through the donning of particular types of clothing and accessories, black Masons literally fashioned an identity that was organized around the principles of production and respectability" (54). In the face of a dominant white supremacist culture that circulated the fallacious stereotypes that Black men and women were lazy and a hindrance to an economy that insisted on paying them low wages, these organizations demonstrated the contrary, that these dignified human beings were worthy of respect due in no small part to the labor history of the Black peoples in this country. With his breast jewel, apron, and, presumably, gloves (although once

Fig 3. Schomburg among Masons and Odd Fellows at the cornerstone laying of the Ionic Temple, 165 or 167 Claremont Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1922. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, )
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Fig 3.

Schomburg among Masons and Odd Fellows at the cornerstone laying of the Ionic Temple, 165 or 167 Claremont Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1922. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-885a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99)

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again his hands are out of view), Schomburg matches his brothers, whose distinction in rank can be discerned by their head coverings.18 He is a member of a great brotherhood of Black men whose organizational reach spanned countries throughout the hemisphere.19

Schomburg's active involvement in his lodge and in the Prince Hall Masons as a whole was a defining principle of his life. As Elinor Des Verney Sinnette notes,

Freemasonry afforded Schomburg the opportunity to display his considerable organizational skills. … While he was Master of [his local lodge], Schomburg's concern for the preservation of its records induced him to gather and organize its documents and papers along with books, pamphlets, correspondence, photographs, and other data pertaining to the black freemasonry movement in the United States.

(26)

Schomburg's penchant for collection, conservation, documentation, and education would be enhanced through his relationship with fellow Mason John Edward Bruce, who would serve as a father-figure for the young man from the Caribbean. His senior by almost two decades, Bruce was born into enslavement in 1856 and had gained his freedom at the conclusion of the US Civil War; an autodidact, he would go on to found newspapers and write pamphlets, books, essays and plays, all with an eye toward both highlighting the erased histories of Black peoples internationally as well as demanding full and equal rights as citizens of the United States.20

"Bruce Grit," as he was known, would play a critical role in Schomburg's life; like Schomburg, Bruce belonged to the Prince Hall Mason Lodge #38.21 Sinnette notes that in 1905 Schomburg joined Bruce's Men's Sunday Club, in which men gathered at Bruce's home to discuss the noteworthy issues of the day and their impact on peoples of African descent. Six years later, in 1911, at Bruce's home in Yonkers, New York, Schomburg and Bruce together with three other members would cofound the Negro Society for Historical Research.22 In "The Negro Digs Up His Past," Schomburg claimed that the society had "succeeded in stimulating the collection from all parts of the world of books and documents dealing with the Negro. It has also brought together for the first time co-operatively in a single society African, West Indian and Afro-American scholars." He goes on to name "John E. Bruce" as the "enthusiastic and far-seeing pioneer of this movement" (236). In December 1920, Schomburg would assume the presidency of the American Negro Academy, the country's first Black learned society; John Edward Bruce was one of the founding members along with W. E. B. Du Bois, and he had served as one of two recommenders for Schomburg's admittance in 1914 (Sinnette 50–63).

In a 1910 photograph of these men together, we see Schomburg to Bruce's left; to his right are James Stephens and Dr. C. P. McClendon (Fig. 4). Sitting outdoors, one presumes on a patio, their posture indicates the depth of their relationships with each other; Bruce leans toward Schomburg, as Stephens subtly leans on McClendon. Perhaps this is a gathering of the Men's Sunday Club, although there is no indication from the photo itself. This picture looks to be of the same era as Schomburg's famous seated portrait; here in a less formal setting he remains aware that his picture is being taken but appears moderately more comfortable than in the individual picture. One can reasonably conclude that McClendon, like Schomburg, is one of Bruce's protégés. He appears by name in an April 17, 1915 article written by Bruce in the Indianapolis Recorder as a member of the board of directors, alongside Bruce, of the New Rochelle Co-operative Business League.23 The purpose of the organization was to assist in the purchase of houses for Black families as well as to serve as a mutual aid society for business owners needing support to expand their businesses. Bruce writes: "[The League] is a beautiful spirit, typical of the communal spirit of the colored man on his native heath" (1).24 The story appears in the second column of the front page, above the fold; coincidentally, in the same [End Page 148]

Fig 4. Mr. James Stephens, Dr. C. P. McClendon, J. E. Bruce ("Grit"), and A. A. Schomburg, Esq. at a gathering, 1910. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, )
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Fig 4.

Mr. James Stephens, Dr. C. P. McClendon, J. E. Bruce ("Grit"), and A. A. Schomburg, Esq. at a gathering, 1910. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/2d679840-53d2-0137-1b54-09541d2e192b)

Fig 5. Mrs. John E. Bruce, Marcus Garvey, Schomburg and other mourners at the grave of John E. Bruce, 1924. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, )
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Fig 5.

Mrs. John E. Bruce, Marcus Garvey, Schomburg and other mourners at the grave of John E. Bruce, 1924. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-8859-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99)

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issue three columns over and below the fold appears a headline, "Shomburg [sic] Wins in Debate," with the subheading "Judges Decide That Negro Is Proper Name for Our Race." The debate centered on the choice between "Negro" and "colored"; I remind the audience that for the Spanish-speaking Schomburg, "Negro" is also the Spanish word for "black," which would be in keeping with the reported "historic and scientific facts" he offered, as per the article. Taking the photograph along with both articles together, we see clearly the intricate networks that existed outside of fraternal orders that these men created for themselves and their associates. It is in keeping with what we know about Black populations in this country, particularly before the end of legal segregation, that they necessarily relied on each other for support in all realms of their lives, including in death.25

On August 7, 1924, John Edward Bruce died in Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan; he was buried in Yonkers, New York. In the accompanying photo from the day of the funeral we see his widow, Florence, with whom he had shared a nearly forty-year marriage, flanked by men in their best formalwear (Fig. 5). The appearance of aprons and white gloves once again alerts us that these are Masons, gathering to mourn a respected elder. To Florence Bruce's left stands Marcus Garvey, and to his left, Arturo Schomburg. Underexplored is the relationship between the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the renowned collector. As Ralph Crowder notes, members of the Negro Society of Historical Research, including Bruce and Schomburg themselves, published their work on Black history in Negro World and the Daily Negro Times, both UNIA newspapers (122). Three memorial services were held for Bruce in succeeding order, all in Liberty Hall, owned by the UNIA in Harlem: the first, a Christian religious ceremony; the second led by his beloved Prince Hall Masons; and the third led by members of the UNIA.26 In his chapter dedicated to the mentoring relationship Bruce maintained with Garvey, Crowder writes: "Bruce and Schomburg also exerted considerable pressure on the Prince Hall Masons, helping to 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" (157). Here, then, we witness brothers in mourning for the loss of their elder, both Caribbean-born; we have visual evidence not only of their acquaintanceship but of their link to their patron, mentor, and paternal figure.

In 1926, the Carnegie Corporation donated $10,000 to the New York Public Library for the express purpose of purchasing Arturo Schomburg's private collection for the 135th Street Branch Library in Harlem. With this sale, Arturo Schomburg became a public figure.27 Whereas he had previously written for Black publications such as the National Urban League's Opportunity and the NAACP's Crisis, with this acquisition Schomburg found himself mentioned more regularly in such white periodicals as the New York Times.28 Already a well-established figure in the prominent Black newspapers of the day, including the New York Age, the Amsterdam News, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender, and the Baltimore Afro-American, his activities as a Mason raised Schomburg's profile in those newspapers as well.29 Subsequent to this watershed event Schomburg acquires a noticeable ease in some of the few photographs that remain of him in what would be the last decade of his life, in both public and private settings. In one, taken in 1930, we see Schomburg at the head of the table at a gathering in someone's home, possibly the painter William Edouard Scott's or even his own; unlike in the vast majority of his portraits, viewers not only witness a smile but also see him look directly into the camera's gaze (Fig. 6). He is relaxed and surrounded by friends in an interior space, taking visible pleasure in the moment and in the community surrounding him. I am uncertain as to the identities of most of the guests, but the man at the end of the table seated across from Schomburg appears to be his friend Harry Williamson. One could reasonably guess that they are a mix of civic leaders and artists, and perhaps even Mrs. Elizabeth [End Page 150] (Green) Schomburg herself. Here we see Schomburg in an informal setting and in mixed company; while we know he was surrounded by women at the 135th Street library, having worked with librarians Ernestine Rose, Pura Belpré, Nella Larsen, Catherine Latimer, and Jean Blackwell Hutson, we do not have photographic testimony to their interactions.30 Someone has annotated the name of one of the guests of the meal, that of William Scott.31 Scott's presence at the gathering highlights Schomburg's relationship with visual artists.

While he is widely recognized for his collection of written materials—books, documents, pamphlets, etc.—Schomburg was also a patron of artists, in both the written and visual realms. For the most part, his relationship with visual artists has been little studied; Sinnette writes, "What [concerned] him was the fate of artistically talented blacks who could not pursue their careers for lack of financial support or, in the case of [José] Campeche, because of their race and skin color. Since American artists generally depended entirely either on their own earnings or on the financial largesse of a wealthy patron, the fate of black artists in America was particularly precarious" (69).32 To that end, Schomburg curated exhibitions that showed the work of artists such as Albert Smith (1896–1940), William Ernest Braxton (1878–1932), and Afro-Cuban artist Pastor Argudín y Pedroso (1880–1968). In addition to promoting Campeche, over the years Schomburg wrote about Afro-Spanish artists Juan de Pareja (1606–70) and Sebastian Gómez (1646–90).33 The 135th Street Branch Library exhibited over one hundred artists on an annual basis; Schomburg served on the events planning committee, ensuring a diverse selection of Black artists, and he worked with the Harmon Foundation, securing financial support for these creatives and serving as a judge of their annual art competition.34 Himself a recipient of a Harmon Award for excellence in education after the sale of his collection, Schomburg understood the need for economic provision made for visual artists, male and female alike.

Fig 6. "Group portrait showing Arthur Schomburg seated at head of table on far left with artist William Edouard Scott (fourth from left in background) and others," 1930. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, )
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Fig 6.

"Group portrait showing Arthur Schomburg seated at head of table on far left with artist William Edouard Scott (fourth from left in background) and others," 1930. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/28f16df0-e439-0135-a964-5dc016c0f58c)

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Of all of the connections Schomburg forged with visual artists, his relationship with Aaron Douglas (1899–1979) is perhaps most noteworthy, if only because Douglas would go on to adorn the spaces in which Schomburg worked. Beginning in 1929, the latter served as librarian of the Negro Collection of the library at Fisk University in Nashville for three years; Douglas himself moved to Nashville in 1930 to create murals that would embellish the library's reading room.35 In 1934, while Schomburg was serving as curator of his collection in Harlem, the 135th Street Branch Library commissioned Douglas for murals for its library through the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project. In the following portrait Douglas points out a detail in his four-paneled masterpiece, Aspects of Negro Life (Fig. 7). In this particular painting titled Song of the Towers, the artist begins the historical journey of African Americans from the African continent through enslavement, liberation, and a reclaiming of African traditions.36 In the photograph both men almost completely disregard the camera so that the focus of the image is the mural itself; Douglas's extended arm brings the viewer's attention to the central figure in the painting, a man holding a saxophone, engaged in creating art while standing on a giant cogwheel, a symbol of labor. Facing the mural itself, Schomburg offers his side to the viewer; the positioning of both men, patron and artist, again reveal that the most important aspect of the photograph is the artistic work itself. This is not a portrait of two friends looking at the camera, which would bring the viewer's attention to them; we instead concern ourselves with the mural's subject—freedom and creativity in the face of a capitalist society that makes such aspirations almost impossible.

Fig 7. Artist Aaron Douglas (left) and Schomburg Collection curator Arthur A. Schomburg in front of Douglas's painting Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers, 1934. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, )
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Fig 7.

Artist Aaron Douglas (left) and Schomburg Collection curator Arthur A. Schomburg in front of Douglas's painting Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers, 1934. (Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/806e8b4f-41cd-d15b-e040-e00a18065bd7)

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These portraits reveal Schomburg's place in some of the most important networks in early twentieth-century African American life. By the 1930s, Arturo Schomburg was widely recognized for his contributions to African American life. The breadth of his knowledge was acknowledged by the luminaries of the day, including Charles S. Johnson, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and Carter G. Woodson; he had been in personal and professional relationships with all of them for decades. Du Bois served as editor of The Crisis from 1910 until 1934, where he oversaw the publication of several of Schomburg's articles (Sinnette 52–53).37 The relationship with James Weldon Johnson stemmed from the beginning of the century: Traveling to South America in 1905, Johnson stopped in San Juan, Puerto Rico, intent on meeting the mayor and carrying a letter of introduction from Schomburg (31). A decade later they collaborated on an extensive bibliography of Black poets that included figures from the United States as well as Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica (32). With Charles Johnson, Schomburg enjoyed a particularly close friendship, beginning when Johnson served as editor of Opportunity in the 1920s, another publication site for Schomburg. Later, as head of the social sciences department at Fisk, Charles would play a critical role in recruiting Schomburg to serve as curator of the Negro Collection at Fisk.38 By the middle of the decade, Du Bois's long-held dream of creating an encyclopedia detailing Black excellence was gaining traction and he would include all of these men in his efforts. In a 1936 photograph of the board of directors of this encyclopedia, Du Bois is in the foreground and surrounded by men and women such as Otelia Cromwell, Florence Read, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, Joel E. Spingarn, and Anson Phelps Stokes (Fig. 8).

In the second row, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg stands next to W. D. Weatherford and behind Monroe N. Work and Charles H. Wesley. This may be the only extant photograph taken in a public setting in which Schomburg, as part of a group,

Fig 8. "Left to right: Miss Otelia Cromwell, Monroe N. Work, Charles H. Wesley, Benjamin Brawley, W. E. B. Du Bois, Eugene Kinckle Jones, Alain Locke, Waldo G. Leland. (Center) James Weldon Johnson, Charles T. Loram. (Rear) W. D. Weatherford, A. A. Schomburg, Joel E. Spingarn, Clarence S. Marsh, Anson Phelps Stokes, W. A. Avery, James H. Dillard, Miss Florence Read, Mordecai W. Johnson. Date photo was taken is disputed. According to Shirley Graham Du Bois the photo was taken in Washington, D.C., May 16, 1936." Board of directors of the Encyclopedia of the Negro, 1936. (W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, MS 312, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries, )
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Fig 8.

"Left to right: Miss Otelia Cromwell, Monroe N. Work, Charles H. Wesley, Benjamin Brawley, W. E. B. Du Bois, Eugene Kinckle Jones, Alain Locke, Waldo G. Leland. (Center) James Weldon Johnson, Charles T. Loram. (Rear) W. D. Weatherford, A. A. Schomburg, Joel E. Spingarn, Clarence S. Marsh, Anson Phelps Stokes, W. A. Avery, James H. Dillard, Miss Florence Read, Mordecai W. Johnson. Date photo was taken is disputed. According to Shirley Graham Du Bois the photo was taken in Washington, D.C., May 16, 1936." Board of directors of the Encyclopedia of the Negro, 1936. (W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, MS 312, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries, http://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-i0458)

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is unabashedly smiling, a rare occurrence. Surrounded by educators and scholars, philanthropists and collectors alike, here is Schomburg amid his contemporaries and recognized by his inclusion in the group as their equal.39

Born in San Mateo de Cangrejos, a free Black community in Puerto Rico that would later be renamed Santurce, and educated in primary and secondary schools not only in Puerto Rico, the island of his father, but also in St. Thomas and St. Croix, the island homes of his mother and her family, this son of the Hispanic and Danish Caribbean had scaled multiple social hierarchies—first as a Freemason and later as an educator and collector. He had done so by navigating multiple networks focused on racial education and uplift. His earliest days as a member of the Club Las Dos Antillas and Club Borinquen meant that Schomburg organized with Black Puerto Rican and Cuban people in New York City to promote the independence of their respective islands from the Spanish empire. He joined community efforts in self-education, collaborating with others as they prepared to take an active part in their liberated nations. As a Freemason he would continue these endeavors, focusing on the collection, preservation, and when needed, translation of Masonic documents within his lodge from Spanish to English. As migration patterns around the city fueled the change in lodge brothers' voices from Hispanophone to Anglophone, Schomburg would actively recruit brothers from the communities that surrounded him, namely African Americans and those from the British West Indies.40 Through his relationship with John Edward Bruce, Schomburg would maintain these habits in all of the groups in which they took part together.41

In all of his writing, collecting, curating, and exhibiting, in his support of the visual arts, in his participation as a subject of historically significant photographs that identified him as a part of a larger organizational structure, Arturo Schomburg was an emblematic Race man.42 By centering the evidence of Black excellence from the past and in his contemporaneous moment, Schomburg announced himself as an agent of progress, a coworker in the kingdom of culture who labored alongside his peers to combat rampant racism. It is perhaps this love for his people—multilingual and diasporic—that rivals the building that bears his name as his greatest legacy. In these photographs we witness how resistance is built not by one individual, but by a collective of the like-minded focused on the construction of a more just and equal world for peoples of African descent.

Vanessa K. Valdés

Vanessa K. Valdés is the director of the Black Studies Program at The City College of New York, CUNY. A graduate of Yale and Vanderbilt Universities, and a professor of Spanish and Portuguese, her research interests focus on the cultural production of Blackpeoples throughout the Americas. She is the author of Oshun's Daughters: The Search for Womanhood in the Americas (SUNY P, 2014) and Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (SUNY P, 2017). She is also the editor of The Future Is Now: A New Look at African Diaspora Studies (Cambridge Scholars, 2012) and Let Spirit Speak! Cultural Journeys through the African Diaspora (SUNY P, 2012). She is the series editor of Afro-Latinx Futures at the State University of New York Press.

Notes

I thank the editors of this special issue, Rafia Zafar and Laura E. Helton, for their grace and patience with me, and their persistence. I also thank the readers whose comments strengthened this essay.

1. Sinnette details how, in a 1934 letter to friends of the 135th Street Branch Library requesting contributions for the purchase of a Pietro Calvi bust of Ira Aldridge as Othello, Schomburg writes that the work of art "may be preserved for posterity to aid the young in art, in historical appreciation and love of race" (175); this inspired the present title.

2. For more recent work on the pernicious aspects of surveillance on the Black community in the United States, see Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (Durham: Duke UP, 2015).

3. For more on photography and African American identity, see Deborah Willis, Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography (New York: New, 1994).

4. For more on the use of photography by Truth and Douglass, see Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, Enduring Truths: Sojourner's Shadows and Substance (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015); John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier, Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century's Most Photographed American (New York: Liveright, 2015); Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity, Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith, eds. (Durham: Duke UP, 2012); and Shawn Michelle Smith, "Guest Editor's Introduction: Visual Culture and Race," MELUS 39.2 (2014): 1–11.

5. For more on this history, see Deborah G. White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894–1994 (New York: Norton, 1999); and Theda Skocpol, Ariane Liazos, and Marshall Ganz, What a Mighty Power We Can Be: African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006).

7. Maceo fought during both the Ten Years' War (1868–78) and the Guerra Chiquita (1879–80); he would be killed in 1896 on the battlefield, in the third and final war for Cuban independence, begun in 1895 and concluded when the United States intervened in 1898. For more on Maceo, see Ada Ferrer, Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898 (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1999); Aline Helg, Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886–1912 (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1995); Mirabal; and Alejandra Bronfman, Measures of Equality: Social Science, Citizenship, and Race in Cuba, 1902–1940 (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2004). For a shorter portrait of Maceo, see Arthur A. Schomburg, "General Antonio Maceo," The Crisis 38 (May 1931): 155–56, 174, 176.

8. To learn more about these groups and their efforts to bring about an independent Cuba and Puerto Rico, see Hoffnung-Garskof, Racial Migrations; and Mirabal. To read of Schomburg's involvement with revolutionary New York, see Valdés 27–54.

9. For much of his public life, Schomburg's world appears to have been decidedly male-centered. In Racial Migrations, Hoffnung-Garskof observes: "Projects designed by Cuban and Puerto Rican men of color to insert themselves into a public sphere dominated by white men almost always depended on asserting their masculinity—their right to be treated as men. This often meant imposing new forms of exclusion on black women or accommodating existing forms of exclusion" (10). I reiterate that a great deal of research remains to be undertaken about Schomburg, including research into his relationships with women; one source that has yet to be mined fully is his correspondence, which has been microfilmed and is available at the Schomburg Center in the Arthur Alfonso Schomburg Papers.

11. See Arroyo.

15. See Sinnette 68, 177. The Harry A. Williamson Papers are located in the Schomburg Center; in addition to personal papers, the bulk of the collection focuses on Black freemasonry in the United States. In addition to documents related to both the Freemasons and the Order of the Eastern Star, it also includes photographs, plaques, a Mason apron and medallions.

16. The relationship between the AME Congregation and the Prince Hall Masons is woefully understudied, particularly in the twentieth century; see David G. Hackett, "The Prince Hall Masons and the African American Church: The Labors of Grand Master and Bishop James Walker Hood, 1831–1918," Church History 69.4 (2000): 770–802; and Stephen Kantrowitz, "'Intended for the Better Government of Man': The Political History of African American Freemasonry in the Era of Emancipation," Journal of American History 96.4 (2010): 1001–26.

17. See Daniel Weinbren, The Oddfellows, 1810–2010: Two Hundred Years of Making Friends and Helping People (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2010).

18. In a questionnaire completed by Schomburg for E. Franklin Frazier, he disclosed that he was also a member of the Odd Fellows. It can be accessed in the Arthur Alfonso Schomburg Collection in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division of the Schomburg Center.

19. See Arroyo; Hoffnung-Garskof, "Migrations"; and Maurice O. Wallace, Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men's Literature and Culture, 1775–1995 (Durham: Duke UP, 2002).

20. This brief biography is gleaned from Sinnette as well as from the sketch that accompanies the finding aid of the John Edward Bruce Papers at the Schomburg Center. In the Introduction to the aid, one learns that this collection had been acquired by Schomburg himself, one of five such collections included in the Calendar of the Manuscripts in the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature (1942), and Schomburg completed the processing of these collections two weeks before his death on June 10, 1938. See "Guide to the John Edward Bruce Papers," The New York Public Library Archives and Manuscripts, Web. For more on Bruce, see William Seraile, Bruce Grit: The Black Nationalist Writings of John Edward Bruce (Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2003); and Crowder.

21. The pen name "Bruce Grit" was bestowed upon him by New York Age editor T. Thomas Fortune. For more information, see the authoritative biography by William Seraile, Bruce Grit: The Black Nationalist Writings of John Edward Bruce (Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2003), 20. Additionally, Bruce wrote, in serial form, The Black Sleuth (1907–09), the first known African American detective novel.

24. The Indianapolis Recorder is an African American newspaper founded in 1895; it continues to be published both in print and electronically and has a print circulation of close to 100,000. The serendipitous finding of this issue serves as a reminder of the research remaining to be conducted about Schomburg and his contemporaries in newspapers, particularly those serving Black communities across the nation.

25. In the byline, the article is written by Bruce "Grit."

26. This is indeed consistent with what we know about Black populations throughout the hemisphere; for more on the role of such networks in Latin America and the Caribbean, see George Reid Andrews, Afro-Latin America, 1800–2000 (New York: Oxford UP, 2004).

27. For more on the geographical expanse of the UNIA in Harlem, see Stephen Robertson, "The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Harlem," Digital Harlem Blog, 26 Apr. 2011, Web.

28. Schomburg's collection represented a considerable contribution to the newly created Division of Negro Literature, History, and Prints within the 135th Street Branch Library; after his death in 1938, the division itself was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, History, and Prints, and in 1972, it was designated a research library and became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. See "Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Records, 1924–1979," The New York Public Library Archives and Manuscripts, Web.

29. In the early 1900s, Schomburg would write letters to the editors of the Times; with the acquisition of his collection, he and his collection became the story. See Piñeiro de Rivera; and Valdés. See also "Gift to Public Library: Carnegie Foundation Buys Schomburg Collection of Negro Works," New York Times 26 May 1926, Web.

30. A search of "Arthur Schomburg" in the ProQuest Historical African American Newspapers database reveals a marked increase in coverage after the sale of the collection.

31. Instead, the only known footage of Schomburg in motion is in the original reading room of the Schomburg; filmed in approximately 1937, it was published on YouTube by the Schomburg Center in honor of its ninetieth anniversary. Although we do not know the purpose of the film, it is clear that everyone, including Schomburg and Latimer, are self-conscious: both Schomburg and a reader look directly at the camera at the beginning of the silent twenty-five-second clip, and both Latimer and Schomburg do so at its conclusion. Nevertheless, it captures an average day in what was, even then, Harlem's premier library. See Schomburg Center, "Schomburg Founder Arturo Alfonso Schomburg in Our Original Reading Room," YouTube, 22 Oct. 2015.

32. See William E. Taylor and Harriet G. Warkel, A Shared Heritage: Art by Four African Americans (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art/Indiana UP, 1996).

33. José Campeche (1751–1809) was the most prominent Puerto Rican artist of the eighteenth century; a Black man whose racial heritage had been obscured, he has slowly begun to receive scholarly attention in the twentieth century. See René Taylor, José Campeche y 1su tiempo (Ponce: Museo de Arte de Ponce, 1988). Schomburg himself wrote about Campeche in an article published in the Mission Fields at Home, a journal published by the sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. See Piñeiro de Rivera; and Valdés.

34. See Piñeiro de Rivera for a collection of Schomburg's writings.

37. These murals remain at the Schomburg Center; they overlook the reading room of the Research and Reference Division.

38. As one can see, Sinnette does not devote a great deal of space to this decades-long relationship, which also includes their involvement in the American Negro Academy, which counted both Du Bois and Schomburg as presidents. For more on the ANA, see Alfred A. Moss, Jr., The American Negro Academy: Voice of the Talented Tenth (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1981); for more on Schomburg's involvement with the organization, see Sinnette and Valdés.

39. The personal correspondence of Schomburg held at the Schomburg Center sheds a great deal of light on all of these relationships; so too do the Du Bois archives, held primarily at the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; the James Weldon Johnson archives, stored primarily in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University; and the Charles S. Johnson archives, held primarily at the Franklin Library Special Collections and Archives at Fisk University.

40. For additional details on his relationships with these men and women, see Sinnette.

42. Crowder lists them as the "NSHR [Negro Society for Historical Research], the ANA [American Negro Academy], the Loyal Sons of Africa, the Prince Hall Masons, the Pen and Pencil Club, the Men's Sunday Club, the Phalanx Club, and the Friends of Shakespeare Society" (127).

43. For more on Race men and women, see Hazel Carby, Race Men (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998); and Brittney Cooper, Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2017).

Works Cited

Arroyo, Jossianna. Writing Secrecy in Caribbean Freemasonry. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Bruce "Grit." "Thrifty Business Men." Indianapolis Recorder 17 Apr. 1915: 1. Indiana's Digital Historic Newspaper Program. Web.
Crowder, Ralph L. John Edward Bruce: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora. New York: New York UP, 2004.
Fleetwood, Nicole R. Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011.
Hoffnung-Garskof, Jesse. Racial Migrations: New York City and the Revolutionary Politics of the Spanish Caribbean. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2019.
—-. "The Migrations of Arturo Schomburg: On Being Antillano, Negro, and Puerto Rican in New York, 1891–1938." Journal of American Ethnic History 21.1 (2001): 3–49.
Mirabal, Nancy Raquel. Suspect Freedoms: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad in New York, 1823–1957. New York: New York UP, 2017.
Piñeiro de Rivera, Flor, ed. Arthur A. Schomburg: A Puerto Rican's Quest for His Black Heritage. San Juan: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, 1989.
—-. Arturo Schomburg: un puertorriqueño descubre el legado histórico del negro. San Juan: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, 1989.
Schomburg, Arthur A. "The Negro Digs Up His Past." The New Negro. Ed. Alain Locke. 1925. New York: Atheneum, 1992. 231–37.
"Shomburg [sic] Wins in Debate." Indianapolis Recorder 17 Apr. 1915: 1. Indiana's Digital Historic Newspaper Program. Web.
Sinnette, Elinor Des Verney. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: Black Bibliophile and Collector. New York: NYPL; Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1989.
Summers, Martin. Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900–1930. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2004.
Valdés, Vanessa K. Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. Albany: SUNY P, 2017.
Willis, Deborah. Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present. New York: Norton, 2000.
—-. "The Sociologist's Eye: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Paris Exposition." A Small Nation of People: W. E. B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress. Ed. Library of Congress. New York: Amistad, 2003. 51–78.

Additional Information

ISSN
1945-6182
Print ISSN
1062-4783
Pages
143-157
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-20
Open Access
No
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