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The Schomburg Center: Harlem's Beacon of Black Culture and History

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a captivating emblem of Harlem's architectural and cultural history, located right on Malcolm X Boulevard.

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exterior of the schomburg center for research in black culture in harlem nyc

The center started as an outgrowth of the 135th Street Branch of The New York Public Library and its division of Negro Literature, History, and Prints—already an essential resource during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. However, it was in 1926, when the Puerto Rican-born black scholar and bibliophile Arturo Alfonso Schomburg brought his extensive collection of Africana to the NYPL, that the seeds for the center were truly planted. Schomburg, an ardent advocate for highlighting black achievements often disregarded by mainstream history, donated around 10,000 items, dramatically enriching the library's collection. In recognition of his contribution, the branch was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, History, and Prints.

The center's building, originally designed by Charles F. McKim, is a captivating marriage of classic Beaux-Arts and Italian Renaissance styles. With its expansion in the late 20th century by architect Max Bond Jr., the Schomburg Center has been able to cater to the changing needs of its visitors while retaining its historical character. Bond added a 75,000 square-foot extension, ensuring that the center remains a testament to African American history and culture.

Many prominent figures like Langston Hughes have been associated with the center. In fact, Hughes' ashes are interred in a cosmogram on the center's main floor, beneath a quote from his poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."

Today, the Schomburg Center operates as a research library of the New York Public Library and a circulating library, housing an extensive collection of resources dedicated to the global black experience. Expect to find over 10 million items, including manuscripts, recordings, photographs, and art, that illuminate the richness of black history and culture. There's a vibrant year-round calendar of events, ranging from lectures and workshops to film screenings and performances, that allows visitors to engage deeply with the materials.

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