Woman Amasses Unique Archive in Garage

Librarian Mayme Clayton amassed one of the largest and most significant collections of items from African-American history and stored it in her garage.

“…Mayme Clayton amassed almost 30,000 rare, first-edition and out-of-print books. She was especially strong on the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, obtaining first editions and correspondence from Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston.
“Her trove includes the first book published in America by an author of African descent, Phillis Wheatley’s “Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral,” dated 1773, when she was a slave in Boston. Clayton has the only known copy signed by the author; she paid $600 for it in 1972, far more than she usually spent. Her collecting style was more bargain basement than Sotheby’s auction. She’d prowl used bookstores, flea markets, estate sales. When old people died, she’d get into their attics.”

The collection includes movies, movie posters, and magazines, among other things. Thankfully, it is in the process of being cataloged and moved to more secure facilities.

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