Historic African-American collection to reside at CSUDH

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By Ronald Penh

The Mayme Clayton collection is one of the largest collections of African-American history and culture in the United States and will now be housed at Cal State University Dominguez Hill’s Gerth Archives and Special Collections.

“Anchoring the collection at the CSUDH campus is a profound statement regarding the ability of a community entity to entrust a valued family heirloom to an institution of higher education,” CSUDH President Thomas A. Parham said in a press release from CSUDH.

“We are honored to announce this historic partnership, and look forward to collaborating with the MCLM board of directors to provide the public one of the most important collections of materials by and about Americans of African descent,” Parham said. “Owing to the social justice roots of the campus and its demographic makeup, we believe that there could be no better place or steward for the collection than this university.” 

The university intends to begin immediately cataloguing and archiving the collection so that it is more visible and accessible to the public, the press release stated.

The collection consists of over two million rare books, films, documents, photographs, artifacts, and works of art related to the history and culture of African Americans in the United States, with a special focus on Southern California and the American West. The collection originated in 1975 by Dr. Clayton, a university librarian, collector, and historian, in which she worked on building up the collection for over 40 years. She kept the items in a three room garage at her home in Los Angeles.

Many of the materials became damaged over time due to the lack of proper environmental controls and inadequate storage. A campaign to search for a proper home that would adequately maintain the quality of the collection was started by Dr. Mayme Clayton’s oldest son, Avery Clayton in 2002. And on Oct. 13 2006, the collection found a home at the former Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse located in Culver City

The museum’s stay in Culver City was not permanent, however, and was with an eviction notice from the county of LA in October of 2018. Despite multiple rallies, petitions, and controversy surrounding the decision, LA county still followed through with the eviction, which began the museum’s search for a new home.

Because of the historical relevance that many of the artifacts have in ties to Culver City, the museum’s board said that it was within their best interest to stay within the greater Los Angeles area.

The West Los Angeles College was able to provide a temporary home within the college’s health center building following the eviction where the entirety of the collection was able to be stored. This home was temporary, however, as the collection was only able to remain in storage containers and was not available for public display. The building it was stored in was also set to be demolished within a couple years, giving the collection’s stay at the West Los Angeles College a limited time frame.

“This collection of African American history and culture is a vital thread in the fabric of Los Angeles County and our nation as whole,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “With Cal State Dominguez Hills serving as a responsible steward for the collection, future generations will be able to know the joy, excitement and inspiration of seeing these artifacts and learning from them.” 

Cal State University of Dominguez Hills is located on 1000 East Victoria St. in Carson 90747. You can contact the university by phone at 310-243-2001.