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Mayme Clayton

Curator and librarian Mayme A. Clayton was born to Mary Dorothy Knight Agnew and Jerry Modique Agnew in Van Buren, Arkansas on August 4, 1923 . She graduated high school at the age of sixteen, and moved to Los Angeles, California in 1946. She earned her B.A. degree from the University of California-Berkeley. She earned her master’s of library science degree from Goddard College via correspondence to their Vermont campus and a Ph.D. degree 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 the University of Southern California to become a law librarian at the University of California, Los Angeles,and also served as a consultant and founding member of the Afro-American Studies Center Library. After working at University of California Los Angeles for fifteen years, Clayton took a position at Universal Books in Hollywood, California. When the store closed, the partners in the store divided the remaining volumes between themselves. Clayton received all of the books that pertained to Black society and culture – more than 4,000 volumes. Clayton’s collection of African American ephemera has continued to grow; it now contains more than 20,000 pieces, including films, books, magazines, music and advertisements. Some of the items in this collection include signed first editions of works by Zora Neale Hurston, handwritten correspondence from George Washington Carver, as well as a rare signed copy of Phyllis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral . Currently, the collection resides in the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City, California. Clayton served as the president of the center.

Clayton was 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.

Clayton passed away on October 13, 2006 at the age of 83.

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Douglass School

University of California, Berkeley

Goddard College

Sierra University

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

Van Buren



Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

If You Don’t Know Where You're Going, You’ll Never Know Where You Have Been.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles



Favorite Food


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Short Description

Curator and librarian Mayme Clayton (1923 - 2006 ) was the collector and founder of the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum, which houses an extensive collection of African American literature, music and other cultural artifacts that she amassed over four decades.


Doheny Library at the University of Southern California

University of California, Los Angeles

Afro-American Studies Center Library

Universal Books - Hollywood

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mayme Clayton's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mayme Clayton lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mayme Clayton describes her mother's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mayme Clayton describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mayme Clayton recalls her father's grocery store in Van Buren, Arkansas

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mayme Clayton describes her father and how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mayme Clayton recalls her father's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mayme Clayton describes her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mayme Clayton recalls her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Mayme Clayton remembers the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Mayme Clayton describes a midnight ramble from her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mayme Clayton describes her childhood personality

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mayme Clayton remembers her experience at Frederick Douglass School in Van Buren, Arkansas, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mayme Clayton remembers her experience at Frederick Douglass School in Van Buren, Arkansas, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mayme Clayton recalls church activities at New Hope Baptist Church in Van Buren, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mayme Clayton describes her experience at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mayme Clayton remembers meeting Jackie Robinson while attending Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri during World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mayme Clayton explains her decision to leave Lincoln University to become a photographer in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mayme Clayton talks about performers she met in New York, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mayme Clayton remembers her exposure to African American history visiting the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mayme Clayton recalls moving to California after her marriage in 1946

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mayme Clayton talks about her career as a university librarian

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mayme Clayton describes how her interest in African American history and publications developed in California

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mayme Clayton talks about her group affiliations regarding black writers and literature

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mayme Clayton lists the higher education institutions she attended and degrees acquired

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mayme Clayton describes the origins of her book collection

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mayme Clayton lists notable items in her collection of African American books, film, and photographs

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mayme Clayton talks about the origins of the Western States Black Research Center in Culver City, California

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Mayme Clayton talks about plans for developing the Western States Black Research Center

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mayme Clayton describes her work with the Black American Cinema Society

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mayme Clayton talks about other notable collections joining with her the Western States Black Research Center

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mayme Clayton describes her hopes for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mayme Clayton reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mayme Clayton talks about how she acquires films for the Western States Black Research Center

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mayme Clayton reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mayme Clayton describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Mayme Clayton explains how a bad financial decision by the owner of Universal Books led to a windfall for her collection

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Mayme Clayton reflects upon the historical importance of her collection and the Western States Black Research Center

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Mayme Clayton narrates her photographs







Mayme Clayton describes the origins of her book collection
Mayme Clayton describes her work with the Black American Cinema Society
You've got this huge collection of books, now. Now when did it start becoming a large collection of books?$$Actually when I left UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California], when I retired from UCLA and started working in this bookstore, Universal Book Store [sic. Universal Books, Los Angeles, California], where they had all these black books. I started really purchasing a lot of things because they had so many things there that I wanted and so it just started growing from there.$$Okay, tell me about now how did you, you purchased most of these new, because I saw some old ones out there too?$$No, no, no, half of them were used, you know. Universal was a used bookstore and I remember I purchased quite a few things from them, then I got on the antiquarian book dealer's list. I became a member of that organization. And people would send me a list of things that they had for sell and you know, then I would order those things.$$Okay. This is the days when people weren't collecting a lot of books, black books I guess.$$No, no, no.$$So were they, were they fairly cheap to acquire?$$Not, well, it was cheaper than they are now. I mean, but the average book I guess, was, maybe we paid about 10, 12, or 15 dollars. And some--I knew I went to, I went to swap meets and a lot times I would find books out there. For instance, I found a book written by Walter White, who was over the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] years ago. And the guy, I said--picked up the book, and I said, "How much is this book?" He said, oh, that's just a little bitty book you can have it for a dime. So, but he didn't have any idea of what, what the book was (unclear) (laughter). So a lot of times, you know, I would luck up on things like that. People would--I had a couple of ladies to call me and say, "I want you to come over and get all this stuff out of my garage. I'm getting ready--I want, need the space in the garage." And one time I went and I found volume one, number one of the Ebony magazine and a whole series of, of Ebony magazines and, and some other black magazines that started around that time.$$Okay. So, did, did you go to, I mean did you go to I guess, antique dealers, and used (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$Oh yeah, yeah, we use to go to the bookstores.$$--rummage sales and that sort of thing?$$Yeah. I use to go to the bookstores and, and when the, some of the sales people would see me coming in and they kind of followed me around to see what I was looking at, what books I was interested in and if I didn't show a lot of interest in a book, well, they, after I left they would mark the books up if I was really interested in them. When I'd go back to get the book the price had gone up on the book, they had marked it up, because they figured that must have been a really great book if I was, you know, kept the book out and, and looked at it. But, some of the other books, you know, if I didn't--I got so that I wouldn't even spend much time, I'd just look at the book and the title and, and not ask him how much is the book, you know, and it would be normal price (laughter).$--I organized the Black American Cinema Society [BACS] and we started out giving cash grants to independent student filmmakers. We were giving three thousand dollars for a first prize, second prize, two thousand [dollars], one thousand [dollars] for the third prize and three honorable mentions at $250.00 each. And we would do that each year. And it was--the students would make the films and we would have filmmakers, film critics to come and look at the films and decide whose going to win the prize, who had the best film. And we did that for sixteen years. We had sponsors to donate the money.$$What facilities would you use to show the films?$$Well, we'd have it in--we've had them in some of the big auditoriums, hotels, you know, big hotels, along with a dinner, you know, and a big event. So, we would, we would treat them royally you know (laughter). Plus we would give a, the Phoenix Award, which is the highest award you know, you could get. Then we'd, then we'd give a Paul Robeson [Pioneer] Award. Then we had one called The Star Bright Award. And all these people were selected, you know, like some big celebrity would come and receive these awards from us each year.$$Okay. When, when did you start giving the awards out?$$That was in, I guess that was in the '80s [1980s]. We did it for sixteen years. And then what happened is that the sponsors, when they had the Seven-Eleven, I think, I think it was in 1998 was the last one we gave out because people were donating money for other things and the sponsor, sponsorship kind of dried up. But we're planning to do it over again. It was--we had a film festival every year. It was called Black Talkies on Parade Film Festival. And we do that along with the, right after we give out the awards. The next week we would have a Black Talkies on Parade Film Festival. And we had that at the Four Star Theater [Los Angeles, California], might have it at the, let's see where else. Oh, we had it at the (unclear) (unclear), they had a big huge film auditorium, you know, just different places we would have the films. And people would, used to come out in busloads you know, to see the films.