Freddie Forest (Raya Dunayevskaya)

Maintain the Schomburg Collection!


Written: 1984
First published: 8 March, 1948
Published in: The Militant, (The Negro Struggle Column), Vol. 12 No. 10, 8 March 1948, p. 4.
Source: The Militant
Transcribed by: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.



The Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, this country’s most valuable library of its kind, is in danger. The story behind this is the story of the subtler forms of discrimination as practised by “cultured Northerners” who are supposedly above the vicious discrimination the Solid South enforces. The Schomburg Collection is a part of the New York Public Library. It now gets about one-third of one per cent of the library’s annual income of over 4 million dollars.

However, the Schomburg Collection is far more than just a branch library. Located in the heart Harlem, the largest Negro urban community on earth, it services not only that community but more than half a million persons of the Negro Community of greater New York. Secondly, many persons come from out of town to do research on special topics for materials may not be had elsewhere.

That is true not only of Negroes but of whites since two-fifths of the people who utilize the collection are non-Negro. There are books in the Schomburg Collection not in any other library in America. Thirdly, it is the repository of original manuscripts that have never been published. For example, many special studies, that were prepared for An American Dilemma by Gunnar Myrdal but not used by him, are available to the public.

Fourthly, the Schomburg Collection also conducts valuable lectures and exhibitions. In 1944–45 the series of thirty public lectures entitled A World View of the Negro Question were attended by about 300 persons weekly. Views from those of Uncle Tom to those of revolutionary socialism were voiced. Finally, the Schomburg collections on Africa, the Negro in Latin America and the West Indies, present a worldwide view of the Negro question. It is probably the best-rounded library in which to study the international aspects of this problem.

The N.Y. library officials and “City Fathers” are using the fact that the Schomburg Collection gets as much as any branch library as a pretext for refusing additional financial aid. What is the real situation? (1) The present sum of $1,000 annually for acquisitions is about one-fifth of what is needed to purchase books, periodicals, mass prints and for binding. The library maintains such a good collection of periodicals because so many are donated. (2) The building that houses the collection at 104 W. 136th Street is kept up poorly and has no elevator, drinking fountain or rest rooms for the public. (3) The present staff of six persons is entirely inadequate and badly underpaid. The demand for a raise in salary by one third and an increase of the staff from 6 to 10 is modest indeed. In terms of the total budget for New York City, the request for $100,000 in capital outlay and an increase of $30,000 annually is a mere pittance. It amounts to but one per cent of the library income. That is little enough for the Negro community to ask the largest city in America that brags about its non-discrimination in educational and library facilities. Thus far there has been a flat “No” from both the library authorities and Mayor O’Dwyer. The latter is apparently too busy figuring out how further to tax the New York populace by raising the subway fare to explain why he so neglects Negro needs.

In face of the refusal, Dr. L.D. Reddick, the Curator of the Schomburg Collection, has handed in his resignation. Unfortunately, there is no word in the statement he sent to the press which takes issue with the authorities and shows the actual, though subtle, discrimination involved. Dr. Reddick evidently thinks that such “gentlemanly” protest will “convince” the powers that be. It is up to the labor and Negro organizations to throw their full weight behind the fight to maintain the Schomburg Collection.