Written in free verse by Carole Boston Weatherford and richly illustrated by Eric Velasquez, Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library is a truly amazing book about a truly amazing man.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1874 in Puerto Rico, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was Afro-Puerto Rican. As a child, he questioned why his history book did no include stories of great Africans and was told, "Africa's sons and daughters had no history, no heroes worth noting." It became Schomburg's life's work and passion to find these histories, make them public and preserve them. Immigrating to New York City in 1891, Schomburg wanted to pursue a profession like medicine or law, but was denied further schooling because he had no proof of his formal education in Puerto Rico. While working as a law clerk and a mail clerk and raising his family, Schomburg also began scouring rare book stores for Africana, educating himself and the world.
The works and stories of heroes Schomburg discovered/recovered are also part of Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library. With illustrations that are framed on the page, Weatherford and Velasquez share stories of Phillis Wheatly, Frederick Douglass and Toussaint Louverture, leader of the revolt that liberated slaves in Haiti. Schomburg purchased military orders signed by Louverture himself.
Schomburg also, "navigated a maze of misinformation that stripped Africans' humanity and branded them as less than to justify slavery." In a poem titled, "Whitewash," Weatherford writes of famous historical figures, from John Audubon and Alexander Dumas to Alexander Pushkin and Ludwig van Beethoven, all of whom Schomburg discovered to have African ancestors in their family trees. Through his tireless efforts writing, researching and tending to his collection, Schomburg established himself as an expert and his friends and peers were a "Who's Who" of the Harlem Renaissance. In 1931, Schomburg was invited to found Fisk University's Negro Collection. In 1940, two years after his death, the New York Public Library's Division of History, Literature and Prints was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro History, Literature and Prints. And, in 1972, the Schomburg Collection is designated a research library of the New York Public Library, becoming the The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In 1990, the lovely, new building in the picture below opened at 515 Malcom X Boulevard in Harlem.
As someone who loves books and the transformative experience they offer, the story of Arturo Schomburg is a powerful one for me. And as someone who loves researching all kinds of things, the particular genius of Schomburg and the legacy he left for all to benefit from is deeply moving. I am grateful to Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez and Candlewick Press for bringing Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library to the shelves of my library!