Who was Arturo Schomburg?

In the digital age when books are consumed through audio apps on cell phones rather than leafing through a hardcover, it’s easy to forget that just a century ago the clearing house for reading was a physical library. Even prior to that, public libraries owed a great deal of gratitude to inherited personal collections from a bookish historian or a curious citizen. Such is the case for the Schomburg Center, one of the world’s foremost research institutions on African Diaspora culture, that is a special branch of the New York Public Library. The Harlem-based collection boasts over 11 million items that highlight the diversity and depth of Black cultures around the world, and it all started with one man’s quest to disprove racism.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was born in 1874 in Santurce, Puerto Rico to an Afro-Dutch Caribbean mother and a White German father. True to the Boricua melting pot, he identified as Black, White, and Latino well before the terms biracial, multi-racial, or Afro-Lat...

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