Monday, November 13, 2017

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

As a boy in Puerto Rico, Arturo Schomburg’s fifth grade teacher told him that “Africa’s sons and daughters had no history, no heroes worth noting.”  But in her new picture book Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Candlewick, 2017), Carole Boston Weatherford  writes,

“After that teacher dismissed his people’s past,
did the twinkle leave Arturo’s eyes
like a candle blown out in the dark?
No, the twinkle never left. It grew into a spark.”

That spark led Schomburg to collect a life’s worth of books, letters, art and prints that told the story of African accomplishments all over the world, especially Africans who came to the New World – like Toussaint Louverture who led a slave revolt in Haiti and Paul Cuffee who was one of the richest black men in early America. Schomburg found African roots in the family trees of naturalist John James Audubon and composer Ludwig van Beethoven.  When Schomburg’s collection outgrew his house, the Carnegie Corporation bought everything for $10,000 and donated it to the New York Public Library.

This book opens the door for students to learn and write about the unsung heroes Schomburg discovered but also others from their own ethnic backgrounds.

·       Learn and write a little more about someone in the book you’ve never heard of.
·       Research someone from your own ethnic background who came to America and made a difference.
·       Write a paragraph or a poem about someone you admire – either from your own ethnic background or someone else’s.

Arturo immigrated to New York from Puerto Rico in 1891, when he was 17 years old. He carried with him letters of introduction to help him find work. 

·       Students can work in pairs to write letters of introduction for each other. Each student imagines a future job and writes a letter recommending the other student for that chosen career. What qualities and skills would be important? What would convince someone to hire the person?

“Arturo Schomburg studied the past… His mission looked to the future. ‘I am proud,’ said Schomburg, ‘to be able to do something that may mean inspiration for the youth of my race.’” He told professors to “include the practical history of the Negro race from the dawn of civilization to the present time. Then young blacks would hold their heads high and view themselves as anyone’s equal.” 

Schomburg’s collection became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Earlier this year, the Center was designated a national historic landmark.

·       Is your school named after a person? Learn and write something about that person.
·       What type of building or space would you want named after you?

If these projects are initiated early in the school year, students can be encouraged to look for people whose stories are not well known in all their classes. 

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