Thursday, December 14, 2006

A remarkable achievement.

This is an astounding and inspiring story. Mayme Agnew Clayton was a university librarian with a passion for African-American history. Raised in Van Buren, Arkansas Clayton’s father, a merchant wanted his children to be exposed to “black people of accomplishment”. And from that time on Mrs. Clayton was interested in history.

Over her 83 years she married, raised three children and worked as a librarian and in her spare time she played golf and collected one of the most important collections of books, photos, films and ephemera of black material in the world. She collected first editions of nearly all the Harlem Renaissance writers many of them signed. All in all she has some 30,000 hard to find books by or about blacks. She has 75,000 photographs, 9,500 sound recordings, multiple thousands of documents and “the worlds largest collection of 16-mm films made by blacks”.

And she did all of it on her salary while raising a family. Her son, Avery is trying to open the Mayme E. Clayton Library and Cultural Center and I hope he succeeds. He has rented a former courthouse for $1 per year but is still raising funds. The only downside in all of this is that they are seeking a $150,000 appropriate from congress. Surely once the existence of this important collection becomes known there ought to be plenty of private donors willing to help house this collection together.

Mayme Clayton’s story is, to me, a very inspiring one. It is about achievement and a passion. It is about dedication, hard work and no small measure of entrepreneurship. I am in awe of what she accomplished and I wish the Mayme E. Clayton Library and Cultural Center a prosperous fund raising year, hope to see it become a reality and hope it is entirely privately funded -- and I hope funders come to the party for this project. It is very, very worthwhile.

It astounds me that she carried on her quest for knowledge in such a methodical and persistent way. Her collection just grew and grew and filled her modest home. One of the grandest collections to be assembled done on a librarian's salary. What she lacked in funds she more than made up for with passion. Hey, Hollywood: shouldn't this woman's story be worth a film along the way?