Culver City Edition Lead Story West Edition

Clayton to house collection at West L.A. College

CULVER CITY – After months of protests and speculation – and faced with a looming eviction deadline – the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum has temporarily moved and stored its revered collection of African American films, photographs, artifacts and works of art to West Los Angeles College.

In a statement released July 31, museum officials said West Los Angeles offered temporary storage on the Culver City campus until the museum finds a permanent home. 

The college also offered to allow occasional public viewing of the collection “as long as space is available and not being utilized by the college,” said museum board director Steven Fisher.

Museum officials have been offered space to permanently house and display the collection at Cal State Dominguez Hills, but board officials have temporarily deferred that offer, reportedly because university officials want to “own” the collection, not just house and display it. 

In a statement released last month, Cal State Dominguez Hills officials said universities typically “ask for collections to be donated as a standard archival practice,” because lack of ownership  “poses barriers to adequate preservation of materials and hinders an institution’s ability to meet grant proposal guidelines.”

Under that arrangement, Mayme Clayton officials would have received a “Deed of Gift” certification, the statement said. 

Fisher said the museum is still negotiating with the university.

West Los Angeles College President James M. Limbaugh, meanwhile, said school officials were happy to provide temporary housing for the collection, especially since the museum was facing a July 31 eviction.

“West Los Angeles College is acutely aware of the importance of the Clayton collection, and we’re glad that we can be good neighbors and provide the necessary space to store the museum’s artifacts and archival materials while a search is conducted for a permanent location,” Limbaugh said.

Forced from its home of 13 years, the Clayton collection’s move is the culmination of months of controversy and speculation surrounding where the beloved museum’s more than two million piece collection [some dated from before the Civil War] would end up after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ordered them to vacate the old Culver City Courthouse no later than July 31.

 The county leased the old courthouse to Culver City in 2006. Culver City then sublet the courthouse to the museum for $1 a year, with the understanding that the arrangement was for a year only.  The collection had previously been housed in a private garage.

Reportedly, county Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission have been working with museum officials and have expressed a commitment to providing the needed support to assist the organization.

In a previous statement, Ridley-Thomas said, “This is an opportunity for MCLM to return to its roots and complete Dr. Mayme Clayton’s vision and solidify its legacy for years to come.”

Lloyd Clayton said the cultural institution anticipates opening the next chapter in the story of the legacy of Dr. Mayme A. Clayton by continuing to support the mission she began several decades ago.

“Before my mother’s passing, her dream was to utilize her collection of unique and diverse historical items, all of which reflect the contributions of African Americans to the American story, as a tool to both create awareness and unify people through a common humanity,” Clayton said. “Honorable goals such as these never die, they only strengthen, and I am grateful for all of those individuals that have been inspired by her to continue to support us and her legacy.”

In an effort to keep the museum in Culver City, an official at the Wende Museum of the Cold War is seeking approval from the city of Culver City for a fully funded project to develop the vacant AmVets (American Veterans) property next door to the Wende, as a creative cultural space for the Clayton collection to permanently provide free programming. The Wende is an art museum, historical archive and educational institution in Culver City. 

“As neighbors, friends, and fellow collectors of important historical artifacts, the Wende is thrilled to join with the MCLM to keep this vital institution in Culver City forever, ensuring diverse constituents from our community will continue to be represented here,” said Justinian “Justin” Jampol, founder and executive director of the Wende Museum. “Innovative, strategic partnerships like this will serve as a powerful model for equitable access to knowledge, culture, and history.”

Other local institutions such as the California African American Museum (CAAM), The Getty Museum, UCLA, USC, the California State Library – as well as Cal State- Dominguez Hills – also have reportedly pledged logistical and collaborative support to the Clayton Museum.

The late Mayme Clayton was a librarian, collector, and historian who amassed her life’s work over a 40-year period. 

The museum was founded in 1975 as the Western States Black Research Center. For many years the collection [the largest assemblage of black Americana west of the Mississippi] was housed in Clayton’s garage in the West Adams District of Los Angeles before moving to the Culver City Courthouse.

One of the museum’s prized possessions is a signed copy of the first book published by Phillis Wheatley, an ex-slave who penned, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” written in 1773.

Clayton believed conserving and sharing African-American history was key to educating current and future generations about black achievements and culture.