On January 24, 1874, a baby boy was born to Carlos Federico and Maria Josefa Schomburg in Santurce, Puerto Rico; four days later, he would be christened Arturo Alfonso. His father was a Puerto Rican merchant of German ancestry and his mother was a freeborn Black midwife from St. Croix, Danish West Indies. As a young boy, he spent time with tabaqueros, or cigar workers in a local factory. At the factory, a man would read aloud the news, novels, politics, speeches and other writings and from there, his love for learning grew.
When Arturo was in the fifth grade, his teacher told him that Blacks had no history, heroes or accomplishments. Because he believed otherwise, Schomburg was determined to know the truth. He would spend the rest of his life discovering, documenting, curating and collecting materials, including print, art and music, on the great and immense contributions made by persons of the Africa Diaspora.
After studying commercial printing at Instituto Popular and Africana literature at St. Thomas College, he immigrated to New York City in 1891. Only seventeen years old, Schomburg settled in the Harlem community of the Manhattan borough. He brought with him letters of reference from various cigar makers and from Jose Gonzalez Font, for whom Arturo worked as a typographer. As he did in Santurce, he spent time with local cigar makers, sharing their activism for Puerto Rico and Cuba to be free from Spanish rule. He joined cultural and political organizations that demanded independence from Spain’s imperialism, including the Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico and sent letters to the editor of the newspaper, Patria.