The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at The New York Public Library recently acquired James Baldwin’s personal archive. The archive includes 30 linear feet of letters and manuscripts, as well as drafts of essays, novels, and other works. It also includes galleys and screenplays with notes handwritten on them as well as photographs and other media forms documenting Baldwin’s life and creative output.
“We are more than excited to have James Baldwin return home to Harlem,” said Kevin Young, Director of the Schomburg Center of the new acquisition. “Baldwin’s amazing collection adds to our ever-growing holdings of writers, political figures, artists, and cultural icons across the African diaspora. With the current resurgence of interest in Baldwin’s works and words, and renovation of our own spaces from the main gallery to the Schomburg Shop, the timing couldn’t be better for Baldwin to join us at the Schomburg Center. As a writer myself, I am eager for students, scholars and other writers—I count myself among all three—to have the opportunity to see his profound writing process up close.”
“Malcolm X, Lorraine Hansberry, and Maya Angelou all have collections at the Schomburg Center and Baldwin was their colleague. His papers not only complement theirs, but offer researchers a fascinating look at the Civil Rights and the Black Power movements, through the works of these seminal figures,” said Steven G. Fullwood, Associate Curator of the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
The ambitious renovation project includes installing a high-definition LED screen on the facade, new benches and landscape on Lenox Avenue, expansions to the gift shop and research spaces, and adding a new exhibition space for children.
“All of this makes for a really terrific start into the 21st Century and puts the Schomburg on its way its next 90 years,” said Director Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad.
The renovation comes at a time of growth at the research library, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary. Over the last three years their attendance has increased by 26 percent and program attendance by nearly 40 percent, according to NYPL President Tony Marx.
This is the most significant investment in the library named after Arturo Schomburg since its 1979 expansion, said the founder’s grandson Dean Schomburg.
“I’m standing here thinking what my grandfather would have felt with what’s going on here today,” he said. “It would’ve been an enormous, enormous pleasure for him as it is for me to see what is happening.”
The research library’s reading room will get a makeover as will the video division. New storing and presentation equipment will make it easier for people to access historic recorded equipment, said Muhammad. “Some of the Schomburg’s greatest treasures are locked in hiding in those spaces and will begin to see the light of day again,” he said.
Scaffolding is already up on the south side of the building. The project is expected to be completed sometime in 2017.
By the time Nora-Ann Thompson fell in love with a woman, she was 45 years old and had three failed marriages behind her. The daughter of a black pastor in the Bronx, she had grown up in a family and a church that did not talk openly about sexuality, let alone homosexuality.
When she finally told her father, all he could say was “that cannot be; you need a man to take care of you and protect you,” she recalled. They never spoke of it again.
Ms. Thompson, now 65, is part of a new oral history project in Harlem that captures the experiences of 13 pioneers in New York City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Their stories tell of the hardship and discrimination they faced within their own families at a time when expressing their sexuality was neither encouraged nor accepted.
All of those interviewed for the project are black, and range in age from 52 to 83. They include a transgender woman who was once homeless and took female hormone shots on the street and a transgender man who was shunned by co-workers after they learned of his medical history. Another man was taunted as gay by his sisters long before he moved to New York and came out.
Their stories will be shared Tuesday night at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library system. The project will become a permanent part of the center’s “In the Life Archive,” a trove of thousands of books, photographs, original manuscripts and other works produced by and about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers. “In the Life” refers both to a phrase used for those lifestyles in black culture, and to the title of a 1986 anthology of black gay writers that was edited by Joseph Beam.
The new oral history project grew out of a February visit to the “In the Life Archive” by a group from a Harlem center for older adults run by Services and Advocacy for G.L.B.T. Elders, known as SAGE. As they pored over the historical materials, many of them saw their own pasts. There were exclamations of “Oh, I remember this place.” One man even picked himself out in a photo.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services today announced the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research center of the New York Public Library, as one of 10 recipients of this year’s National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community. For 21 years, the award has celebrated institutions that present extraordinary and innovative approaches to public service to make a difference for individuals, families, and communities. The award will be presented at an event in Washington, D.C., on May 18.
The Schomburg Center, located in Harlem, NY, is one of the world’s leading research facilities devoted to the preservation of materials on the global African and African diasporan experiences. A focal point of Harlem’s cultural life, the Center also functions as the national research library in the field, providing free access to its wide-ranging noncirculating collections. It also sponsors programs and events that illuminate and illustrate the richness of black history and culture. The Schomburg Center contains over 10 million items and provides services and programs for constituents from the United States and abroad. In 2015, the Schomburg Center will be celebrating its 90th anniversary year.
“These National Medal recipients have demonstrated a genuine understanding of their communities and are committed to addressing community needs,” said Maura Marx, acting director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. “IMLS believes museums and libraries are vital community anchors that enhance civic engagement, cultural and educational opportunities, and economic vitality. The remarkable community contributions these institutions have made are proof positive of this.”
“The Schomburg Center is honored to be the recipient of this year’s IMLS Award,” says Schomburg director Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad. “Since 1925, the Schomburg Center has been home to many of the world’s greatest writers, historians, and artists, from James Baldwin to Maya Angelou to Harry Belafonte, and thousands in between. As we celebrate our 90th year and in recognition of the National Medal, we are strengthening our foundation so as to be an indispensable resource for the next generation of storytellers, history-makers, and world-changers.”