The custodian of one of the nation’s major black history archives has died. Avery Clayton suffered an apparent heart attack during a Thanksgiving gathering with his family in Culver City. Clayton inherited his mother’s passion for sharing the heritage of African-Americans in the western United States.
When Avery Clayton's mother Mayme Clayton died three years ago, she left a substantial collection of black history artifacts that included a rare signed volume of poetry by the 18th century slave Phillis Wheatley and original prints of early black-cast talking films.
The longtime university librarian stored her collection in her garage. It fell to her son to promote it and try to arrange for its permanent home and proper care. Scholars regard the Clayton collection on a par with those of the Vivian G. Harsh Collection at the Chicago Public Library and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library.
Avery Clayton guided journalists and archivists on tours of the collection, and secured an unused courthouse as the future location of the Western States Black Research and Educational Center.
Clayton worked to raise money for the enterprise, and he lent artifacts to other institutions for display. He co-curated the Huntington Library’s current exhibit “Central Avenue and Beyond: The Harlem Renaissance in Los Angeles” that continues through the first week of February.
Avery Clayton was 62 years old.