The late Mayme Agnew Clayton was a librarian and historian who founded the Western States Black Research and Education Center, which bills itself as the largest collection of African-American historical items in the world. Dr. Agnew’s collection, which was amassed over four decades, is housed in the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City, Ca.
Clayton was born Mayme Agnew in Van Buren, Ark. on August 4, 1923. As a child, Clayton’s parents took her to see educator Mary McLeod Bethune speak, and she remained a central influence in her career. She attended the University of California, Berkeley, earning her undergraduate degree. While in her 20s, she moved to New York and married Andrew Lee Clayton before relocating to the West Coast.
After working for the University of Southern California, Clayton became a law librarian for UCLA in 1957 and helped establish the school’s African-American Studies Center Library in 1969. It was then Clayton began collecting the rarest of African-American artifacts she could find and storing them at her home.
In 1975, she officially established the WSBREC at her home studio and garage, which was visited by scholars and researchers from around the world. The collection was continually growing. In 2002, her eldest son, the late Avery Clayton said building a museum to house his mother’s findings was in the works.
Just before Dr. Clayton’s death in 2006, it was announced that the Maybe A. Clayton Library and Museum would make its home in Culver City. In the shadows of movie studios, the museum is in what used to be the city courthouse. In a 2012 Los Angeles Times article on the MCLM, the publication stated that the collection of memorabilia there is second only to New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Along with her time at Berkeley, Clayton earned a MLS from Goddard College in Vermont and earned her Ph. D in humanities from La Sierra University in 1985.
PHOTO: Western States Black Research and Education Center