Marie Dutton Brown on Jacob Lawrence’s “The Schomburg Library”
As told to Souleo
From the time I can remember, libraries have played a huge part in my life. As a child I grew up in Hampton, Virginia. I spent a lot of my time on the campus of what was then Hampton Institute, which is now Hampton University. My father taught civil engineering there and my mom taught English in high school. One of my favorite destinations on campus was the library.
Later on when we moved to Nashville, I would spend time at the Hadley Park Community Library. This was during the era of segregation so this was the black library serving North Nashville. As a kid in a segregated community, the library allowed me to transport myself to another place or experience something new. There wasn’t much television since it was just starting in the 1950s. We did listen to the radio a lot. But it was the library and books that formed the core of our learning experience and exposure to the world.
In the 1960s I came to New York as an adult in my 20s. I made a visit to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to conduct research on a series of multicultural books created by Charles F. Harris. I remember being at the Schomburg and meeting with one of the main librarians. He had this desk in the middle of the room covered with papers and books.
As I look at Jacob Lawrence’s painting I am reminded of being in that room. I can almost smell the library. I can feel the energy. It is the energy of people who are engaged in the act of learning and research. Jacob captured this moment in the middle of the day when people are at the library. You can see that the shelves are not perfectly lined up, books are lying on their sides and some are on top of one another. This all indicates that the library is being used. And the best thing anybody can say about a library is that it’s used.
Marie Dutton Brown is a literary agent and Sugar Hill resident. She serves on the advisory board of the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.