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Sat, 08.04.1923

Mayme Clayton, preservationist of Black America

Mayme Clayton

*Mayme Clayton was born on this date in 1923. She was a Black Librarian, researcher and historian.

From in Van Buren, Arkansas she graduated from high school at the age of sixteen. The daughter of Southern pioneers she was proud of her father being the only Black business owner of a general store, serving successfully with both Black and white communities where she grew up.  Her parents instilled in her a love of culture as well as a sense of adventure.

After graduating from Lincoln University in Nebraska in 1945, she moved to New York where she met her husband, married and moved to Los Angeles. She earned a B.A. degree from the University of California-Berkeley, a master's of library science from Goddard College and a Ph.D. from Sierra University in Los Angeles.

Clayton began her career as a librarian in 1952, working at the Doheny Library at the University of Southern California. In 1957, she left USC to become a law librarian at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she remained for fifteen years. While at UCLA, Clayton also served as a consultant and founding member of the Afro-American Studies Center Library.  During the 60s, UCLA asked her to develop a library for the Black Studies Department, and she became keenly aware that the attainment of out-of-print materials was not valued by the administration.

The mission of preserving out-of-print African American materials fused with her unwavering and passionate interest in preserving Black heritage. Leaving UCLA, Clayton took a position at Universal Books in Hollywood, and when the store closed, the partners in the store divided the remaining volumes between themselves. Clayton left with more than 4,000 volumes of books that pertained to Black society and culture.

Since then, her collection grew to more than 20,000 pieces including films, books, magazines, music and advertisements. Some of the treasures in this collection are signed first editions of works by Zora Neale Hurston and handwritten correspondence from George Washington Carver, as well as a rare signed copy of Phyllis Wheatley's "Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral," considered as the first book published in America by an author of African descent.

The collection resides in the Western States Black Research and Cultural Center in the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Cultural Center.  Clayton served as the president of the center, and her son Avery, serves as the executive director. Clayton was also the founder of the Black American Cinema Society, which awards scholarships and hosts film festivals.

She was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Phoenix Award and the Paul Robeson Award.  Mayme A. Clayton died on October 13, 2006 at the age of 83.

Reference:
Western States Black Research and Educational Center

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