The Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum is a jewel of Culver City. The building at 4130 Overland Avenue, across from where the Culver City Democratic Club meets, houses an extensive collection of artifacts of African American history, everyone’s history. They have rooms of books, film, photographs and much more. Contact the museum and get onto their email list to learn about their wide range of programs: firstname.lastname@example.org
Below is Shannon Theus’ moving experience visiting the Clayton.
Untapped treasure lies in plain view on the busy street of Overland in Culver City. A former courthouse has been renovated into a Mayme A. Clayton library & museum (of profound history) African American history. Director Lloyd Clayton gives Culver City’s Democratic Club’s Second Vice President, Craig Scott and me, Recording Secretary — Shannon Theus, a personal tour and interview. He tells us about the indomitable will of his mother Mayme A. Clayton, and her passion to uncover the truth and grandeur of Black history in order to empower with the world with it.
The museum’s rare national treasures includes a 1773 edition of Phyllis Wheatley’s book of poems signed by Wheatley herself. She is one of America’s first acclaimed poet, who was kidnapped from her village and forced into slavery. Her poetry, so beautiful, freed her of slavery and made her a highly esteem guest of George Washington, and was written about by Thomas Jefferson. Fellow Black poet Langston Hughes has also left a signed noted in his book of poems.
The halls of the museum tell a history through sound, pairing albums to rare photos and texts. Nina Simone’s jazz recording “Mississippi Goddamn” lies near photos of the domestic terrorism being afflicted upon Blacks. Next to Lena Horne’s “Strange fruit” album, hangs the actual photo of the lynching that inspired the poem by Abel Meeropol — who wrote the song that Lena Horne sang.
These jewels of the past has not been ignored. The collection has been empowering Americans to their own history for years. Alex Haley consulted Mayme and her library to find out about his own family’s history, which led to the epic saga Roots. Alex Haley thanks Mayme in his signed copy of the book, which is part of the museum’s collection along with a signed letter from Martin Luther King Jr.
I personally found myself staring face-to-face with my own history, as I surprisingly fell upon a signed picture from my deceased father, Jazz drummer and member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra: Sonship Theus (he died 7 years ago). In fact, the museum had a file on my family The Theus, which included my cousin: former NBA player & Coach Reggie Theus along with esteemed Theus of the military. Astonished, I couldn’t stop crying.
“Amazing” is the only word I can use to describe the effect of the library & museum, which is a storehouse of incredible pieces of history. A view into the vault, and one would see table sized inventory of slaves, letters from renowned members of the Black community that spans from before the birth of the nation, posters of rare Black cinema like that of Porgy & Bess performed by Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Portier. The museum owns one of the few copies left in existence and showcases rare cinema like this each month. It also has constant events like jazz concerts, readings, retirement workshops and is an active member of Culver City’s political community.
The most valuable untapped treasure lies within this museum’s ability to transform your understanding of self by teaching you (regardless of your background) America’s history, Black history, your history.