President Obama wasn’t short on bold statements in the final days of his administration. From high-profile commutations to discreet foreign aid payments, the beloved ex-president put a proverbial cherry on his legacy with a flurry of activity ahead of Trump’s pending inauguration. But one powerful symbolic gesture from this final-hour frenzy seems to have flown under the radar, though it will undoubtedly resonate for generations to come.
Indeed, on January 11th Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the designation of 24 National Historic Landmarks, in what would be the last batch for the outgoing Democratic cabinet. Among those included – ranging from architectural treasures, to vintage machine shops – was the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, founded by visionary Afro-Puerto Rican intellectual Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.
A pillar of Harlem’s intellectual heritage, the Schomburg Center began in 1925 as the New York Public Library’s Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints before a massive donation of African-American literature from Schomburg’s personal collection turned the library branch into an epicenter for the preservation of African diaspora history. Born in Santurce to a German merchant and an Afro-Antillean immigrant to Puerto Rico, Schomburg was a self-taught scholar who dedicated his life to preserving and celebrating the cultural contributions of the African diaspora.
Since Schomburg’s tenure as curator of the collection back in the 1930’s the center has continued to evolve while staying firm in its mission and commitment to the Harlem community. The designation of the original library branch on West 135th Street as a National Historic Landmark will bring the building under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department, and guarantee ongoing support and stewardship from the federal government.
Of course, with the Center’s connections to figures like Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Countee Cullen, it seems like a logical and apolitical addition to the prestigious list of National Historic Landmark. But a close reading of January’s list reveals a clear tendency, with symbolic sites of Latino community empowerment like Chicano Park, Casa José Antonio Navarro, and the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission Chapel standing along side numerous African American and Native American civil rights monuments.
In the end, it seems the Obama administration’s message is clear: the history of the United States is one of resistance, struggle, and, ultimately, victory.
H/T Manhattan Times