Jean Blackwell Hutson was a librarian, archivist, writer, curator, and educator. Hutson also served as chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture where she helped to upgrade the library to the standard where it is now.
Hutson was born on September 7, 1914, to Paul O. Blackwell, a farmer and business owner, and Sarah Myers Blackwell, an elementary school teacher. Hutson and her mother moved to Baltimore when she was just four years old, while her father remained in Florida to run his business.
By the age of 15, Hutson graduated class valedictorian from Douglass High School in Baltimore, then an all-Black high school a segregated system.
At first, Hutson wanted to be a psychiatrist, she took up library science with the goal of financing medical studies. In 1936, she received a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Library Service. Her first job was in the New York City Public Branch Library system. As a librarian in the Bronx, she noticed that there were few Spanish-language books that would appeal to the borough’s Spanish population, and she arranged to buy some. In 1939, she married Andy Razaf, a lyricist who wrote songs for Fats Waller.
Hutson became friends with Langston Hugues, who referred to her as his “baby sister.” When Hutson arrived in Harlem as a grown woman, Hughes introduced her to well-known writers and artists.
In 1948, she was asked to take over the Schomburg, which was based on the private library of Arthur Alphonzo Schomburg, a Puerto Rican of African descent. In 1971, Hutson helped establish the Schomburg Corporation to raise money for a new building.
Hutson also helped obtain a Federal grant for the construction of a new building. In 1981, the new $3.7 million centers finally opened, five stories tall, built of red brick and glass, climate-controlled, with an art gallery.