A Blow to African American Cultural Preservation

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I write to you to inform you of a great loss.  Avery Clayton, curator of the Mamie Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City, CA died on Thanksgiving Day ( after November 26, 2009. Many of you may not know Avery, nor may you have heard of the Clayton Library and Museum. For the last four years, Avery devoted his life and his art to carrying out the legacy his mother left to African American children and people.

Mamie Clayton began collecting books, manuscripts and other examples of African Americans' contribution to American culture and the preservation of African and African American culture. She believed emphatically that *"To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.”

*According to Avery, she wanted black children to know that they had come from a people rich in culture and history. With her own resources, she amassed the only collection of archival materials, films, books, slave records, etc on African Americans on the West Coast, and the largest private collection owned by African Americans in the country--and possibly the world.

An artist in his own right, he sold his own paintings to fund the initial start up of the MCLM. He was not deterred by funders and others who questioned why he "didn't just give the collection to somebody," a coded way of suggesting he turn over the collection to white institutions such as the Library of Congress. Avery stood firm. He believed that having a private collection, owned by and managed by African Americans was a way to help heal the racial rift in this culture, and a way to affirm the valuable contributions of a people much maligned.

I was privileged to have known Avery when I was a program officer at the Ford Foundation. He received a small grant from Ford, and continued to seek funding. I write you to encourage you to follow the future development of MCLM. It will need all of our support. I last saw him at the beginning of October, and had the privilege of witnessing the transformation he already had made happen with the Museum. Whenever Avery spoke, his gentleness and passion for making his mother's vision, and his own, a reality, inspired all who heard him.

Be inspired yourself. As the year closes out and you think about a gift you can make that will go on giving, I urge you to consider the Mamie Clayton Library and Museum. If you have ideas about potential funders that will make this library and museum continue to live as a testament to Mamie and Avery Clayton's vision, please pass the information on to them.

I write this to you from my heart. The Museum has not asked for any support. I write this note to you because I believe in the vision of both Mamie Clayton and her son, the late Avery Clayton.

I write this because I believe every culture has a right to know its own value and worth, and to be the keepers of its own history. I write this to you because I believe in legacy-making.

 Avery became a grand
champion of his mother's legacy:


You can find information about the holdings of the museum on two segments of the history detectives

Contact Information for the Mamie Clayton Library and Museum
Contact us at:

(310)202-1647 Phone (310)202-5464 Fax



Pass the word to preserve this African American treasure.

Peace, Irma

Original date: November 28,2009

~Photo Opt Courtesy of: Latimesblog.com