Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jean Blackwell Hutson (1914-1998): Culture Keeper Extraordinaire

Jean Blackwell Hutson (1914-1998), a native of Sommerfield, Florida, was the curator and chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture from 1948 until 1980. Hutson was a culture keeper extraordinaire in that she worked tirelessly to ensure the acquisition, preservation, and promotion of materials relating to African and African American history.

Ms. Hutson was born Jean Frances Blackwell on September 3, 1914 in Sommerfield, Florida. She was the daughter of Paul Blackwell, a farmer and commission merchant; and Sarah Myers Blackwell, a teacher. Ms. Hutson later moved to Baltimore, Maryland. She was the class valedictorian when she graduated in 1929 from Douglass High School, a high school for African Americans in Baltimore. After high school, Ms. Hutson briefly attended the University of Michigan before transferring to Barnard College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1935. In 1936, she received her library science degree from Columbia University. In addition, Ms. Hutson was a member of Delta Sigma Theta.

She began her library career at the New York Public Library. She worked at the 135th Street Branch where she was mentored by library pioneer Ernestine Rose. Ms. Hutson also worked at the Harlem Branch, the Countee Cullen Branch, the Woodstock Branch, and the Washington Heights Branch. In 1939, Ms. Hutson married songwriter Andy Razaf (1895-1973). From 1939 until 1942, Ms. Hutson was a school librarian at the Paul Lawrence Dunbar Junior High School in Baltimore, Maryland. She returned to the New York Public Library in 1942. Her marriage to Andy Razaf ended in divorce in 1947.

In 1948, Ms. Hutson became chief of the Schomburg Research Center. While serving as chief of the Schomburg Research Center, Ms. Hutson married John Hutson in 1950 (the couple had one child, Jean Frances Hutson); was an adjunct professor in history at City College of New York (CUNY) from 1962 until 1971; and an assistant librarian from 1964 until 1965 at the University of Ghana where she managed the Africana collection. Also during Hutson's time at Schomburg, the center received money from the Ford Foundation, the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA), and 3M enabling the creation of  an archival program, the hiring of additional personnel to perform preservation work, and the microfilming of the Schomburg Research Center's collection. In addition, Hutson helped secure federal funds to have a new building created for the Schomburg Center (the new facility opened in 1981); was a member of the African Studies Association and the Africana Librarians Council; and participated in the National Commission on Libraries Task Force on Library and Information Services to Cultural Minorities.

Ms. Hutson left the Schomburg Research Center in 1980 and worked as the Assistant Director, Collection Management and Development, Black Studies at the New York Public Library's main branch, retiring in 1984. She passed away in 1998 at the age of 83. The Jean Blackwell Hutson Library Residency Program, a diversity program that ran from 1992 until 2007, was created in her honor by the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Related post: Arthur Schomburg, 1874-1938: Noted Bibliophile, Collector, Curator, and Scholar

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