Puerto Rican contributions to Black History Month
February is Black History Month in the United States. And hallways, libraries and classrooms in public schools throughout the country showcase important figures from black history.
I remember working in one of these schools in the City of Buffalo named Herman Badillo Community School. Although many Puerto Rican children attended this school, the bulletin boards showcased important figures from black history in the African-American community.
So, a few years ago, I developed an exhibit for Black History Month that showcased the important black figures in our history. I thought it was important for Latino children to know and appreciate their own black origins.
Yet, there is a little forgotten fact about how this celebration started. Many think it was the African-American scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson responsible for starting it and he had contributed to founding it, but the origins Black History Month started when the black bibliophiles (book collectors) had showcased their books through exhibitions that lasted a week in the second decade of the early twentieth century in New York City.
One of the most prominent of these early book collectors Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938) had amassed a private book collection after he immigrated from Puerto Rico in 1891 at age 17.
Schomburg sought better work opportunities and had joined others already in New york City from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands involved in the war of independence against Spanish colonialism in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
The bibliophiles exhibited their works through the auspices of the Negro Society for Historical Research Schomburg co-founded with the African-American journalist and Prince Hall Mason John E. Bruce in 1911. During the same period in 1915, Dr. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
Dr. Woodson admired the week-long exhibits that showcased the books and other black history memorabilia of Schomburg and the early black bibliophiles took the idea called it Negro History Week.