Mayme Agnew Clayton

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Mayme Agnew Clayton (1923-2006)

Mayme Agnew Clayton (August 4, 1923 – October 13, 2006) was a librarian, and the founder, president, and spiritual Leader of the Western States Black Research and Education Center (WSBREC), the largest privately held collection of African-American historical materials in the world. The collection represents the core holdings of the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum (MCLM) located in Culver City, California.

Over the course of 45 years, Clayton single-handedly, and with her own resources, collected more than 30,000 rare and out-of-print books. The collection is considered one of the most important for African-American materials and consists of 3.5 million items on the topic of African-American culture, according to UCLA Magazine. Her collecting grew from her work as a librarian, first at the University of Southern California and later at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she began to build an African-American collection. "Ms. Clayton, an avid golfer, traveled for her sport, trolling for rare finds wherever she went. The centerpiece of the collection that grew this way is a signed copy of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, from 1773. First published by an American of African descent, the book was acquired for $600 from a New York dealer in 1973. In 2002 it was appraised at $30,000," according to the New York Times.[1]

Other items in her collection include movie posters (one featuring Stepin Fetchit), newspaper clippings regarding actress Dorothy Dandridge, and a letter handwritten by educator Booker T. Washington.[2][needs update]


Mayme Agnew was born in Van Buren, Arkansas on August 4, 1923. Her father, Jerry Agnew, Sr., owned and operated a general store, the only black-owned business in Van Buren. Clayton’s mother, Mary Knight Agnew, was a homemaker and renowned Southern cook, whose dinner gatherings drew friends from far and near. She had two siblings, Jerry, Jr. and Sarah Elizabeth (a well-known Southern California educator). Jerry and Mary consciously chose to expose their children to African Americans of accomplishment. During a 1936 visit to Arkansas by Mary McLeod Bethune, Clayton’s parents drove a significant distance to be sure that their children could hear her speak. Dr. Bethune remained a lifelong inspiration for Dr. Clayton," according to the MCLM website.[3]

She first attended Lincoln University of Missouri before transferring to University of California, Berkeley, where she received a B.A.

She moved to New York City in her 20s, met Andrew Lee Clayton, and they married in 1946, then moved to a bungalow in West Adams, California.

She began her career at USC in 1952, until she became a law librarian for UCLA in 1957. In 1969 she helped establish the university’s African-American Studies Center Library, and began to buy out-of-print works by authors from the Harlem Renaissance.

She earned an MLS from Goddard College in Vermont, and was awarded a PhD in Humanities from La Sierra University in 1985.


  1. ^ "Trove of Black History Gathered Over Lifetime Seeks a Museum" New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2006
  2. ^ UCLA Magazine. April 2010. "Well-Preserved: How Mayme Clayton Saved America's Black Past."
  3. ^ "Custodian of African American History & Culture" Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum. Retrieved December 14, 2006

Further reading[edit]

  • Holmes III, Emory (Winter 2008), "A Priceless Inheritance", American Legacy: the Magazine of African-American History & Culture .

External links[edit]