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Key Figure In Black Culture Center Dies

Jean Blackwell Hutson, who helped build a Harlem center into one of the nation’s leading institutions of black culture, has died. She was 83.

Hutson died Wednesday at Harlem Hospital.

As curator and later head of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, she turned it into a trove of books, art, historical documents and other materials on people of African descent.

Under her leadership, the center grew from 15,000 volumes to 75,000 and now includes 150,000. She assembled a collection of African art and historical material from Haiti and persuaded her childhood friend, Langston Hughes, to donate a portion of his papers.

She was a friend of other Harlem Renaissance figures, including Romare Bearden, Richard Wright and W.E.B. DuBois.

In 1935, Hutson became the second black woman to graduate from Barnard College; the first was writer Zora Neale Hurston. Hutson wanted to be a psychiatrist but earned a master’s degree in library science with the hope of financing her medical studies through library work.

Hutson worked at the Schomburg from 1948 until she retired in 1980. She was a frequent visitor to Albany, where she successfully cajoled state officials into granting the collection money that ensured its survival.

In 1981, she helped the center win a federal grant so the collection could move from its cramped quarters to a more spacious $3.7 million five-story, glass-and-brick building in Harlem.

The center has a large collection of photographs documenting black life, along with rare artifacts that include a 16th-century manuscript believed to be the first book written by a black man.

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