overview

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture houses one of the country’s most significant collections of African American history and the African Diaspora, including the records of LGBT notables and groups such as playwright and activist Lorraine Hansberry, author and activist James Baldwin, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, among others.

The legacy of poet Langston Hughes is remembered in the lobby and auditorium named for him, as well as in the “Rivers” Cosmogram in the lobby.

Header Photo
Credit: Photo by Kate Glicksberg, c. 2018. Source: NYC & Company.

History

Completed in 1980, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the country’s foremost institutions focusing exclusively on African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences. The building is named for Arturo Schomburg, whose extensive donated collection helped form the Division of Negro Literature, History, and Prints at the 135th Street Branch, located around the corner, in 1926. That collection eventually moved to the Schomburg, one of four designated research libraries in the New York Public Library system.

A 1991 expansion connected the old and new buildings. It includes the Langston Hughes Lobby and the Langston Hughes Auditorium. The lobby floor features sculptor Houston Conwill’s “Rivers” Cosmogram, which includes excerpts from “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1920) poem by Langston Hughes. A portion of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance poet’s ashes are interred underneath.

The Schomburg’s In the Life Archive (formerly the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive) is a collection of works by Black LGBT people and is housed in the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division. A selection of LGBT individuals with records at the Schomburg include poet Assotto Saint; African American literary works collector Glenn Carrington, whose records also detail his life as a gay Black man from the 1920s to the 1960s; playwright Ira Jeffries; author and civil rights activist James Baldwin; and playwright and activist Lorraine Hansberry. Organizations with records here include the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (donated by founder Alvin Ailey); Gay Men of African Descent; Lavender Light Gospel Choir; and Other Countries, a group founded by and for gay Black male writers.

In January 2017, the Schomburg Center was declared a National Historic Landmark. It is adjacent to the Countee Cullen Branch.

Entry by Amanda Davis, project manager (May 2019).

NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: J. Max Bond, Jr. of Bond Ryder Associates (original structure); John James of Bond Ryder James, Architects (expansion)
  • Year Built: 1980 (original structure); 1991 (expansion)

Sources

  1. Amanda Casper, “Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form (Philadelphia: National Park Service, Northeast Regional Office, October 15, 2015).

  2. Candice Frederick, “Remembering Sculptor Houston Conwill (1947-2016),” New York Public Library Blog, December 22, 2016, on.nypl.org/2ClFBwv.

  3. Steven Fullwood, Assistant Curator, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

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