The Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum (MCLM) is committed to telling the story of African- American experience in all its variations: family life, arts and entertainment, history, sports, medicine, architecture, politics, religion, law, technology, etc. The visionary, Mayme A. Clayton, Ph.D. (1923-2006), established the Western States Black Research Center (WSBRC) in 1975 because she believed that "children should know that black people have done great things." In 2007, the organization was renamed in her honor as a testament to her contributions and legacy. Dr. Clayton, a librarian, collector, and historian, believed that preserving and sharing the often neglected and overlooked history of Americans of African descent was imperative for current and future generations. For over 40 years she independently and meticulously amassed a collection characterized as "one of the most academically substantial collections of African-American literature, manuscripts, film and ephemera independently maintained."
The collection was initially housed in the garage of Dr. Clayton's Los Angeles home. After years of serving as a bookstore and library for local adults and children, the collection was in danger of irreparable ruin. A campaign to rescue, relocate, and share the collection was organized in 2002 by Dr. Clayton's eldest son, Avery Clayton (1947-2009), an artist and retired educator. In 2006, shortly before Dr. Clayton passed away, a permanent home for her collection in Culver City, CA was announced. Since relocating to its current facility tremendous efforts have been invested in strengthening its institutional capacity. Today, MCLM is an emerging, dynamic cultural institution dedicated to engaging multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-generational audiences about the diversity of the American experience through the lens of African-American history and culture.The vast collection at the center of the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum is the result of one woman's passion for preserving the history and cultural legacy of Americans of African descent.
The Early History
In the early 1960's Dr. Mayme A. Clayton began collecting documents, books, photographs, films, and memorabilia chronicling the experience of Americans of African descent. Dr. Clayton recognized the importance of preserving the historical record of an important aspect of American history. Thus began an effort that spanned more than forty years of her life--to collect and preserve this historical record as it unfolded, and to serve as a cultural and research resource.
In many cases, she found rare books while scouring bins in garage sales or exploring used bookstores. She was able to acquire the entire film library of a black film studio, Lincoln Moving Pictures Company. Photo "morgues" from local black newspapers were available at well below their true value. All these "items" were duly catalogued by Dr. Clayton and became a part of the collection.
When Dr. Clayton started her efforts she housed everything in her study at home or in a garage behind her house. This was sufficient in the early years as a place to welcome the growing stream of visiting scholars, community leaders, school children and others who came to see an exceptional part of the American record slowly develop. From the outset, she was committed to sharing her collection with those who wanted to see and study it.
And come they did. Word spread about the depth and breadth of the collection and of Dr. Clayton's remarkable knowledge of the items in the collection and their historical importance. Visitors came from all over California and elsewhere in the U.S., as well as Asia, Europe, and Africa--scholars, researchers, writers, local community leaders, and elected officials from every level of government. Both Dr. Clayton and her collection were recognized as resources critical to the record of the United States and its diverse people, communities, and individuals.
Sharing the Collection
Important to Dr. Clayton were the school children visiting on fieldtrips. Crammed into that small garage or in her study, they would look with awe at handwritten slave records, the thousands of rare and out-of-print books and rare photographs of major figures of the Civil Rights movement. Some of the kids recognized family members; some remembered dramatic events that occurred in the neighborhood and that were captured in the photographs. Many never forget what they saw. Today, decades later, those same students contact MCLM and tell the staff of their visit to the "garage."
As part of that effort to share, early on, Dr. Clayton organized programs to showcase the collection. For example, in the 1970's she launched one of the first black film festivals, Black Talkies on Parade. Since then, MCLM, even when the collection was housed in Dr. Clayton's garage, has mounted numerous such programs, often with esteemed institutions, including the Huntington Library & Gardens, the Skirball Cultural Center, and Howard University.
Slowly the public is beginning to recognize the significance of the collection. For example, artifacts from the collection have been featured twice in the PBS show, The History Detectives.
Culver City: A New Home
With the collection's size growing dramatically, storage and conservation became critical issues. The garage could not house all the items and the conditions were not adequate for proper conservation. So the search began for a new home.
In 2004, Dr. Clayton's son, Avery Clayton, became executive director of the predecessor to MCLM and began the arduous effort to find a permanent home where the collection could receive professional attention for conservation. Mr. Clayton sought and received funding from corporate and institutional sponsors, both for the collection and for programming. Companies such as Southern California Edison provided some of the critical seed money for such efforts.
Early in this century, the mayor of Culver City, Mr. Albert Vera, began talking with Mr. Clayton about moving the collection to Culver City. In 2006 the Culver City Council and MCLM signed a lease for a de-commissioned Los Angeles County Courthouse. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of the leaders of Culver City, including the continued support of Mr. Vera, the new mayor, Mr. Andrew Weissman, and City Council, as well as Los Angeles County leaders, MCLM now proudly resides in that facility.
The Future: A Place to Know Our Past, Present and Future
By definition, the future is based on the past. Dr. Clayton passed away in late 2006, shortly after her collection began the move into the facilities provided by Culver City. But her sons Avery, Lloyd, and Renai continued to move the collection forward.
As executive director of MCLM, Avery began to make his mother's vision a reality. Then, tragedy struck. In late 2009, Avery died suddenly. We mourn our losses but we know our future.
Today, the board, staff, volunteers and supporters of MCLM have come together to make sure that the vision is realized.
And that vision is:A collection rich and deep and a place for scholarly research; Education programs to enrich the lives of the school children who still come and will come; Advanced conservation efforts to maintain the collection for future generations; Acquisition and assistance programs to uncover other parts of the American experience as told through and about the African-American experience, with exhibitions and special programs to spread the word; A place for our fellow neighbors in Culver City, and elsewhere, to visit the collection; and A passion for the digital possibilities that can help Dr. Clayton's vision become a reality.