Mayme Clayton Library remains on borrowed time in Culver City

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Culver City’s Mayme Clayton Library and Museum is living on borrowed time unless it can negotiate an arrangement with the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, who wants to turn the Culver City landmark into a constituency center.

In October, the library received notice that its lease would not be renewed. Lloyd Clayton, executive director of the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum, said his goal is for the museum to remain in Culver City, but he is exploring options with a few universities that have expressed an interest in housing the more than two million African American books, films, documents, and other artifacts that currently reside at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum.

“I grew up with this collection,” Clayton said. “This was my mother’s collection, which was housed in her garage in the West Adams district many years ago. For 45 years, she campaigned and tried to get this collection housed someplace. It wasn’t until she met with Culver City that she finally found a place willing to house her artifacts.”

Culver City Councilman Daniel Lee supports the library and wants it to remain in the city he represents, saying the museum is of great cultural significance.

“We’ve developed a cultural corridor in Culver City which includes the Wende Museum, the Culver City Historical Society, and the Mayme Clayton,” Lee said. “This is a central part of it and it’s the largest private collection of African American art and memorabilia west of the Mississippi and that’s something Culver City can be proud of.”

Tom Camarella, a Culver City resident, said the museum’s eviction would be a great loss for the city he has called home for the past 19 years.

“The best possible position would be to stay here or move to West L.A. because at least that’s still in the neighborhood because we want school kids to come to it,” Camarella said. “Most kids don’t understand this history but older people like myself, we’ve lived through it.”

The Mayme Clayton Library and Museum were 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 mission of the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum (MCLM) is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and celebrate the unique history and cultural heritage of Americans of African descent.

“My mother had a vision that this history was going to be lost,” Clayton said. “I remember when I was growing up in the 60s, African American history wasn’t even mentioned except in a derogatory way in certain books using terms like “Sambo” and things like that. So we want to update and correct that, my mother especially wanted to do that because she grew up during the Jim Crow era and she witnessed what segregation had done and she, in her own way, wanted to put a stop to that.”

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