Clayton Museum facing uncertain housing future


In April, Culver City’s Mayme Clayton Library and Museum became the defendant in a civil suit filed by Los Angeles County.

The suit was filed after museum officials rejected multiple offers from the County over the course of a decade to help them relocate from their current location at the old Culver City Courthouse, to what the County called a more appropriate home for the large collection of rare books, films, documents, photographs, artifacts, and works of art showcasing the long history of African-American history and culture that drew admirers and supporters from near and far.

In 2006, Los Angeles County leased the courthouse to Culver City, which in turn sublet the courthouse to the museum, with an understanding that use of the old courthouse would only be for one year.

The suit filed by Los Angeles County comes 12 years after the museum’s lease expired and six months after the museum rejected an offer to remain in a section of the courthouse while completing a relocation plan.

In February, Lloyd Clayton, executive director of the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum, said that although his goal was for the collection to remain in Culver City, his was exploring options with several universities that have expressed interest in housing the two million items in the collection.

One of the universities that expressed in interest in the collection is California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH).

“This collection is one of the premier assemblages of African-American ephemera, documents and historic memorabilia west of the Mississippi,” said CSUDH President Thomas A. Parham. “We would be honored to give it a home and are confident that the librarians at CSUDH can preserve and present the collection in such a way that protects valuable and delicate items for posterity.”

Although the County of Los Angeles has pressed forward with legal action, the County and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who wants to convert the old courthouse into a constituency center, are committed to protecting the collection of African-American historical artifacts.  The County and Ridley-Thomas have endorsed the offer by CSUDH.

“It is my hope that the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum will accept this outstanding offer from CSUDH,” said Ridley-Thomas. “There is a synergy and suitability to having this collection – so expertly and lovingly assembled by Dr. Mayme Clayton, a ground-breaking, African-American librarian—come under the care of one of the best library systems in California so that it is accessible for generations to come.”

In an effort to bring attention to the prospect of the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum having to relocate out of Culver City, an African-American leadership conference was held at the museum to celebrate Black History Month and hosted by Culver City Councilman Daniel Lee.

“We wanted to bring people into the Mayme Clayton Museum because its facing eviction at the current moment at the hands of Mark Ridley Thomas, our supervisor, who would like to turn it into a constituent center,” Lee said. “We think there is a way to achieve both concerns to allow the supervisor to have his constituent center but to provide space for the Mayme Clayton to continue to be here and we hope ultimately that is what happens.”

Once the Clayton collection of African-American artifacts leaves the old Culver City courthouse, the building will undergo extensive renovations.

The Mayme Clayton Library and Museum was founded in 1975 as the Western States Black Research Center. Dr. Mayme Clayton, a university librarian, collector, and historian believed that preserving and sharing the scattered and often neglected history of Americans of African descent was vitally important for current and future generations. Working independently for more than 40 years, Dr. Clayton meticulously amassed a collection characterized as “one of the finest collections of African-American literature, manuscripts, films, and ephemera in private hands.”

The collection was initially housed in a renovated three-room garage at the rear of Dr. Clayton’s home, located in the Los Angeles community of West Adams. The garage was set up as a library for local adults and children, with tables and chairs, bookshelves, and a card catalog. By 2002, however, many of the materials suffered damage due to inadequate storage and lack of proper environmental controls. As a result, the public had less access to the materials, and the collection was in danger of being irreparably ruined.

A campaign to rescue, relocate, inventory, catalog, and share the collection was organized in 2002 by Dr. Mayme Clayton’s eldest son, Avery Clayton (1947-2009), an artist and retired educator. As the founding Executive Director of the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, Avery Clayton labored to ensure that his mother’s collection would have a permanent home. On October 13, 2006, Dr. Mayme Clayton passed away, just hours after a press conference announcing the establishment of a new home for the collection–the former Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse located in Culver City. In keeping with Dr. Clayton’s wishes, her collection was bequeathed to the Western States Black Research Center, and in 2007 the name of the organization was changed to the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, in honor of her contributions and legacy.