The University Librarian Who Assembled One of the World’s Largest Collections of Black Memorabilia

Mayme A. Clayton served as librarian at the University of Southern California. She also was instrumental in the establishment of the African-American Studies Center Library at the University of California at Los Angeles. Clayton was a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. She held a master’s degree in library science from Goddard College and a doctorate in the humanities from Sierra University. Over the years, Clayton was an avid collector of any artifact that had to do with African Americans. Clayton died in 2006 at the age of 83.

Now her son Avery Clayton has taken on the task of cataloging the collection his mother left behind. The collection will be housed and available to researchers at The Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum of African-American History and Culture in Culver City, California. The museum is expected to open in 2011.

The collection is massive. It has seven main components: rare and out-of-print books, manuscripts, documents, films, music, photographs, and memorabilia.

The book collection includes more than 30,000 volumes. Included in this collection is a copy of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, signed by the author in 1773. There are also signed first editions of books by Oscar Micheaux, Booker T. Washington, Eartha Kitt, George Washington Carver, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Countee Cullen.

The audio music collection contains 9,500 recordings. The archive also includes more than 75,000 photographs.

Her collection of black films is believed to be the largest in the world with more than 1,700 titles. The film collection will be housed at the UCLA School of Film and Television, which is better equipped to store and maintain the originals.