Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Black HERstory: Mayme Clayton
Phenomenal Collector of Black Artifacts

Mayme Clayton
In honor of black history month, Cocoa Fly is recognizing  black women who blazed trails, kick down doors in their heels and are making a difference in the Black HERstory series. I'm open to profiling women who made remarkable differences on a local and global scale. If you know of a black woman in your town or city who made history, email cocoaflyblog@gmail.com with your suggestions.

One of my favorite interviews of my career is with Mayme Clayton. I actually interviewed her when I was in graduate school for a class assignment but later used that audio for a public radio story.  Clayton had the second largest collection of black memorabilia in the world. These rare pieces, like a signed book by Phyllis Wheatley and vintage Oscar Micheaux film posters, were not stored in a museum. She kept all of these priceless gems in her South Los Angeles garage. There must have been some history angels protecting her collection because even during the heat and rain her things stayed in good condition. Someone broke into her garage and all they stole was a boom box. Idiots. See what happens when you don't pay attention in school kids?

I went into her treasure chest/garage and was in awe. I actually got to see Phyllis Wheatley's signed book! Wheatley, a former slave, was the first African American poet published.  For me, an African-American writer, I'll never forget that moment.


Avery Clayton

Clayton was a great interview. I admired her stories of travel and she loved life.  Clayton worked until the end of her life in 2006 to establish a museum and  research center for her collection. Her sons are now running the Mayme E. Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City, CA (near LA). The eldest son and museum's director Avery Clayton died unexpectedly in 2009.  The museum still needs more funding. How sad that Los Angeles is home to some of the wealthiest black entertainers, athletes, entrepreneurs in the country (if only I were rich) and the Claytons still need a hand. If you want to help, visit their website http://claytonmuseum.org/.

Listen to the interview/obit I reported on Mayme Clayton for NPR back in 2006. You can read the interview as well, but you don't get the same feel as when you listen to the audio.

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