Arthur Schomburg
Portrait of Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, bibliophile

The Schomburg Center is the world’s leading institution for the collection, preservation, and interpretation of materials related to the global black experience. Today, the Center cultivates a growing archive of over ten million items, and welcomes more than 100,000 visitors each year. Digging Up the Past: A History of the Schomburg Center marks our 90th anniversary, and it offers visitors a peek at the Library’s beginnings and evolution.

This display is organized into three sections: 1) The Founder: honoring the life and vision of Afro-Puerto Rican bibliophile, activist, and educator Arturo Schomburg, 2) The Inception: exploring the early story of the Schomburg Collection and the groundbreaking Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints at the New York Public Library’s 135th Street branch, and 3) The Evolution: following the Center’s historic journey over nearly a century. This timeline is illustrated with thirty-two letters, photographs, documents, pamphlets, publications, flyers, material culture, and other objects, dating from 1874 through 2015. Each of the items on display are gleaned from the Schomburg Center’s Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division; Photographs and Prints Division; Art and Artifacts Division; and Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division.

In 1986, the Schomburg Center took on the task of writing the history of the institution. This resulted in Remaking the Past to Make the Future, a commemorative publication celebrating the Library’s 60th anniversary and chronicling the history of the Center and its collections. Thirty years later, Digging Up the Past brings pivotal moments in this timeline to life, and extends the project to the present day. This display serves as a primer that encourages our community to dig deeper not only into the history housed at the Schomburg Center, but also to learn about the genesis and progression of the Center itself. 

Other Resources


Rare Footage of Arthur Schomburg in the Schomburg's original reading room with librarian Catherine Latimer, c. 1937.





Arthur Alfonso Schomburg Photograph Collection

Arthur Alfonso Schomburg Collection

90th Anniversary Logo

Timeline adapted from "Chronology: A Historical Survey of the Schombrug Center", Remaking the Past to Make the Future, 1986.

More Exhibitions

  • The Pleasure of Rebellion

    June 3–July 1, 2024
    Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

    The Pleasure of Rebellion gathers the archives of Black lesbian and feminist writers Alexis De Veaux