Ruby Washington/The New York Times
via the NY Times:
Harlem’s Cultural Anchor in a Sea of Ideas
By FELICIA R. LEE
Published: May 11, 2007
YOU could almost see the ghosts among the new furniture and modern recessed lighting. It was a few days before the staff at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, at 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, finished hanging two exhibitions and stripping the paper off the doors at its bigger, brighter new entrance. Amid the sounds of hammers and drills, they prepared for tomorrow’s public celebration of the center’s two-year, $11 million renovation.
The Schomburg is as much a monument to an idea as it is a building. So those ghosts, workaday and luminous, inhabit a space of many incarnations, tracing its roots back to the 135th Street New York Public Library branch that opened there in 1905. Predominantly Jewish then, Harlem was mostly black by 1924. Over the years, Alex Haley researched “Roots” at the Schomburg; James Baldwin and Gordon Parks both found it a refuge; a young Ossie Davis honed his craft there.
By the time it officially became the Schomburg in 1972, taking its name from Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, the Puerto Rican-born black bibliophile who donated his collection, it was a one-stop connection with the global black experience. Its wonders include a rare recording of a Marcus Garvey speech, documents signed by Toussaint L’Ouverture, a signed first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry, daguerreotypes of African-Americans from the 1830s, Benjamin Banneker’s almanacs. Its exhibitions have tracked black migration and displayed the contents of Malcolm X’s pocket when he was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom.
“The center has increasingly become one of the cultural anchors of the greater Harlem community, one of the top three tourist destinations, along with the Apollo and the Studio Museum in Harlem,” said Howard Dodson, the Schomburg director. “The kind of change that’s taking place in Harlem is of political, social and historical interest to the center, and we’ll be here to document it. We are not going anywhere.”
As the Schomburg unveils its facelift, Harlem itself is also undergoing one of its periodic renaissances. There’s new real estate development, new stores and restaurants, new places to imbibe culture. The association with Harlem has been the constant for the Schomburg trove of more than five million items: art, manuscripts, films, photographs. The center has been a place for community meetings and for local politicians, for schoolchildren and eminent researchers like the historian John Hope Franklin.
Thelma Golden, the director and chief curator of the Studio Museum, is among those who see the renovated Schomburg as an emblem of a Harlem at the top of its game. Hundreds of thousands of tourists pour into Harlem annually to shop in the stores on 125th Street, sit in the pews of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church or revel in the serendipity of finding new cafes or dowager buildings.
“The Schomburg stands as a bearer of the idea that our history and culture are important,” said Ms. Golden, who is African-American. “The renovation will reinvent the sense of the institution as living, breathing space. All the cultural institutions in Harlem are going through a period of incredible growth, and it’s not just about physical renovation.”
A walk through Harlem makes vivid its embrace of many worlds. There are the tiny African braiding shops, mom-and-pop restaurants with an African or Caribbean flavor, as well as Citarella and Starbucks amid the cacophony of 125th Street, the area’s commercial spine. It is dotted with stores like Old Navy, as well as the Apollo and the Studio Museum. The streets are cleaner and safer than they have been in years. (read on ...)
And take note of the following:
Two exhibitions will be on view through Oct. 28: “Stereotypes vs. Humantypes: Images of Blacks in the 19th and 20th Centuries” and “Black Art: Treasures From the Schomburg.”
The “Stereotypes” exhibition is meant to show the prevalence of caricatured images of blacks for most of the early 19th and early 20 centuries. It uses items like sheet music, posters, advertisements and postcards to show how words like “darktown” and “coon” were casual companions to depictions of blacks with distorted features.
Some of the items are on loan from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich.
“A small amount of this is from the South,” Mr. Dodson noted. “A significant amount of the stereotypical ads come from New York.”
The propaganda is contrasted with real-life black images from that period: couples in their wedding finery, 1920s bathing beauties, formal banquets.
“Black Treasures” is an eclectic display that includes the 1868 marble and bronze “Portrait of Ira Aldridge as Othello,” by Pietro Calvi, as well as the 1969 collage “Black Manhattan,” by Romare Bearden, and dozens of other work by Elizabeth Catlett, Augusta Savage, Jacob Lawrence, Benny Andrews, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Horace Pippin, Faith Ringgold and others.