Remembering Avery Clayton

By The History Detectives Team
8 December 2009
Category: Viewer Mailbag

Avery Clayton - retired art teacher, steward of African American heritage, and friend of History Detectives, died suddenly on Thanksgiving 2009 at his home in Culver City, California. He was perhaps best known for preserving his mother’s collection of hundreds of thousands of artifacts spanning the black experience from slavery to the Civil Rights era. Executive Producer Chris Bryson and Host Wes Cowan share their memories of Avery:

One of the privileges of being a producer for History Detectives is meeting passionate individuals who care about the past, and do so because of what it tells us about ourselves.

Avery came to our New York offices in the spring of 2007 to discuss the possibility of researching a few artifacts from the Mayme A. Clayton collection for the series. As we listened to him, it became clear that behind his mannered exterior was an iron will determined to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of rare films, manuscripts, music scores, photographs and other ephemera that his mother collected, would be made permanently available to Americans from all walks of life.

Along with other members of the History Detectives family, I was deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death of Avery Clayton on Thanksgiving Day. His passing marks the loss of a champion for the preservation of a remarkable collection relating to African American history.

Avery shared his mother’s dream to ensure that “children would know that black people had done great things.” It is my firm hope that the legacy of this mother and son combination will live on.

Avery brought us two stories. That summer we aired one about an autograph book owned by the fabulously liberated Harlem pianist Nora Holt. The second, in the summer of 2008, was a book of slave songs, the first book of African American spirituals ever published. I was terribly saddened to learn of Avery’s passing this Thanksgiving Day. He remains an inspiration for our team at History Detectives, and we are glad that his work will be carried on through The Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum.

-Christopher Bryson, Executive Producer, History Detectives

Along with other members of the History Detectives family, I was deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death of Avery Clayton on Thanksgiving Day. His passing marks the loss of a champion for the preservation of a remarkable collection relating to African American history.

I had the privilege of meeting Avery two years ago when I was assigned to an investigation involving a book that had been collected by his mother Mayme. Like thousands of other items collected over the course of her lifetime, this book - one of the first published records of the songs of slavery - was slated for preservation in a public institution that was in large part Avery’s inspiration. During my visit to The Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum in suburban Los Angeles, Avery spoke passionately about the thousands of items that his mother had collected over the course of her 40 years. Her collection - and her legacy - had been placed in capable hands. As we toured the largely undeveloped building housing the collection, he spoke excitedly about his vision for a west coast research center that would rival the famed Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.

Avery shared his mother’s dream to ensure that “children would know that black people had done great things.” It is my firm hope that the legacy of this mother and son combination will live on.

 

Watch the Howard University Choir sing from the slave songbook:

Video:
Singing the Slave Songbook

Howard University Choir sing from the Slave Songbook.

Watch Gwen Wright’s interview with Avery:

Video:
Mayme Clayton's Collection

Gwen speaks to Avery Clayton about his mother's collection.

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