Arthur A. Schomburg, a Puerto Rican of African descent, has been described as "the Sherlock Holmes of black history" because of his diligence in tracking down elusive manuscripts. In 1926 the Carnegie Corporation purchased Schomburg's document collection and presented it to the New York Public Library, where it became the nucleus of a corpus of black materials and one of the institution's research libraries.
Today the Schomburg Center contains more than 65,000 volumes and 226,000 manuscripts, some dating from the sixteenth century. The collection also contains thousands of prints, posters, photographs, films, magnetic tapes, records, sheet music, and newspapers. Many of the center's unique holdings are available in two microfilm series of selected titles:
Series I, available on 610 reels, has been organized into two sections, Periodicals and Books. The Periodicals section contains seventy-one publications from Africa, the United States, and elsewhere. The Book section contains approximately 125 works, or collections of works, by and about notable figures in black history and culture.
Individual titles are available – click here for a complete title list.
Series II, available on 50 reels, contains more than 350 works dating from 1534 to 1955, many of which have been filmed from unique and rare editions. It addresses topics including:
- Africa, the Matrix (1600–1955)—This section looks at the continent as the early European explorers, deskbound scholars, and later colonizers saw it—at those ardent but frequently misguided individuals who sought lands in which to repatriate ex-slaves and others born abroad. The material in this section also examines the indigenous fauna and flora, which captivated scientists and were despoiled by hunters, and it looks at the sincere and not so sincere, who came as interlopers and remained as “owners” and administrators of vast tracts of land belonging to others.
- Religion and the Church. (1550–1904)—This section features biographical information as well as documents about missions, sermons, church history, and non-Christian ways of worship. Of special interest are an early nineteenth century Negro-English New Testament; Morgan Godwin's work written in 1680 exhorting Christians to baptize blacks and Indians as members of the Christian church; and the anonymous Young Prince, which relates the adventures of an African chieftain's son dispatched to England to learn about Christianity so his father could decide whether his people should adopt the religion.
- Slavery and the Slave Trade. (1685–1844)—This section covers the horrors of enforced slavery of men of all colors as well as the traffic in humans. It includes the facts marshaled by Benezet, Wilberforce, Ramsay, Clarkson, Pitt, and others in their efforts to abolish these twin evils. Researchers also will find arguments against abolition and manumission; the great Parliamentary debates, which decided the issue for Great Britain and all lands controlled by her; and, amidst the strident white voices, those of the impassioned ex-slave Cugoano, and of James Capitein, often cited as an example of black intellectual potential, who penned one of the few books by black men favoring the continuation of the institution of slavery.
The Schomburg Collection is a remarkable aggregation of knowledge on all aspects of black history, civilization, arts, and culture.
The Schomburg Collection includes The Life and Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1896-1929. Click here for a complete title list of this special collection.