Schomburg Center’s 85th Anniversary Gala Hailed Outgoing Chief Howard Dodson; Saluted 20th-Century Milestones in Black History, and Passed Legacy Key to Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the nation’s premier repository of materials, items and treasures documenting the history, culture and experiences of people of African descent, celebrated its 85th anniversary with a special tribute to the Center’s outgoing chief Dr. Howard Dodson; premiered a star-studded production honoring the Schomburg and Dodson legacies; and presented the ceremonial “passing-of-the-key” to incoming director-designate Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad. The evening event was held on Monday, January 24 at Aaron Davis Hall on the campus of The City College of New York. Proceeds from the gala, hosted by Broadway greats La Chanze and Avery Brooks, will benefit the Schomburg Junior Scholars Program.
Born from the legacy of early 20th century historian-scholar Arturo Schomburg and nurtured under succeeding directors including Dr. Dodson, the Harlem-based center has transformed from a local landmark to a globally known center of scholarship, research and culture honoring the Black experience.
On Mr. Schomburg’s 137th birthday (Jan. 24), the gala premiered “Transformations,” an imaginative multimedia performing arts work directed by Tony and Emmy Award winner George Faison from a script by Khephra Burns celebrating 20th century African, African-American and African Diasporan achievements that have led to 21st century triumphs. The production comprised a digitalized montage of rare images from the Schomburg files on three large screens; readings, dramatic presentations, and dance, music and choral performances.
In addition to La Chanze and Mr. Brooks, “Transformations” featured multi-Grammy winning artists Ashford & Simpson, vocalists Genovis Albright and Bertilla Baker, dancer Maurice Chestnut, actor Andre DeShields, musicians Eli Fountain and Jay Hoggard, award winning actress-singers Ebony Jo-Ann, Lillias White and Alyson Williams, actor Jeffrey Wright, actresses Kim Yancey-Moore and Sherry Bronfman, and the Cicely L. Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts concert choir directed by Norma Jean Hughes, among others.
In recognizing Mr. Dodson’s great work — during his 26-year tenure — in building on the scholarship traditions and cherished legacies of those historian-scholars who came before him, the Tribute also honored his dynamic impact on the lives of students of all ages and walks of life; and his tireless mission to save and share Black history for the generations to come. Dr. Dodson was presented with the Center’s African Heritage Award, a bronze replica of Meta Warrick Fuller’s “Ethiopia Awakening.”
Featured in the Tribute to Howard Dodson were: NYPL President Dr. Paul LeClerc, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Mr. Gordon J. Davis and, from the Schomburg, Diana Lachatanere, Assistant Director of Collections and Services.
An emotional highlight of the evening was the passing of the key (to the Schomburg legacy) by Mr. Dodson to Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the director-designate, who begins a new chapter in the history of the Schomburg this July.
The appearance of a huge birthday cake in honor of both the Schomburg Center and Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, on whose birthday the event was held, closed the ceremony to a standing ovation.
In the audience of more than 600 attendees were: Dr. Roscoe Brown, Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, Mr. Lewis Cullman, actress Ruby Dee, Ms. Hazel Dukes, Mrs. Louise Grunwald, Ms. Susan Fales-Hill, Rev. James Forbes, Ms. Thelma Golden, Mrs. William Greaves, Mr. William Allen Henry, Mr. Edward Lewis, Dr. Marcella Maxwell, Ms. Susan Morgenthau, Mr. Ozier Muhammad — father of Dr. Khalil Muhammad, Dr. Robert O’Meally, Mrs. Kathy Rayner, Mrs. Elizabeth Rohatyn, Mrs. Frederick P. Rose, Mrs. Jacqueline Patten-Van Sertima, Ms. Aysha Schomburg, Dean Schomburg, Ms. Susan Taylor, Assemblyman Darryl Towns, Mrs. Gerri Warren-Merrick, Hon. Dudley Thompson, Mr. George Wein, Ms. Terrie Williams, and others.