Now he is celebrated in a glorious picture book: Schomburg: The Man Who Built A Library by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Born in Puerto Rico in 1874, a descendant of African slaves, young Arturo hung out with the cigar makers, who always had a reader of literature in the front of the room to engage the minds of the workers while their hands did their repetitive craft.
Weatherford’s craft as a writer is lyrical:
“So when his fifth grade teacher told him that Africa’s sons and daughters had no history, no heroes worth noting, did the twinkle leave Arturo’s eyes? Did he slouch his shoulders, hang his head low, and look to the ground rather than the horizon?
“No. His people must have contributed something over the centuries, history that teachers did not teach.”
Schomburg became an auto-didact and a U. S. immigrant. He then began his search for the lost history of the African diaspora.
“So he haunted rare book stores, poring over fragile pamphlets with torn covers and leather books with paper mites between pages.”
On every page, Eric Velasquez’s illustrations brings the man, and his discoveries of great people with African heritage to life. Weatherford includes just a hint of the depth of Schomburg’s discoveries, because, after all this is a book for children. Black heros, poet Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass and Haitian revolutionary, Touissant Louverture are properly memorialized with art and discussion. But I never knew African blood ran through the veins of Audubon, Dumas, Pushkin, and Beethoven.
As you might have guessed from the title, Schomburg’s collection is now a library in Harlem, NYC. The richness and succinctness of Weatherford’s prose and Valesquez’s vibrant art indicate to readers how much more there is to black history if they only started digging for themselves.
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library belongs in libraries everywhere, including mine.