After a retired school teacher spent a lifetime putting it together, one of the biggest collections of African American artifacts is going up for sale.
Elizabeth Meaders, a former New York City school teacher, has amassed more than 20,000 artifacts and mementos relating to African-American history over the period of 60 years. It all started with adoration for Jackie Robinson, the Hall of Fame baseball player who broke the color barrier in the sport.
“Jackie was the beginning. He was like the plug that pushed me. But once I got into the collecting field and found out how magnificent and how unappreciated these African-American artifacts and ephemera were, I was just overpowered because I switched from sports to military,” Meaders said.
Throughout the decades, what she describes as a passion evolved into a labor of love. The 90-year-old is prepared to part ways with this history after years of preserving it in her three-story Staten Island home.
“This could be a museum, whether it’s here in New York or in any town or city in America. It’s a ready-to-go museum. And that’s what it should be — a museum,” Guernsey’s Auction House president Arlan Ettinger told CBS News.
“I would be bumping into people and knocking them out of my way and grabbing history for 20 more years. But the reality is I’ve run out of gas. I’m too old. I can’t go any further. I’m worn out physically. I have to accept reality and say it’s time for some institution or a person who is a humanitarian, philanthropist, patriotic American to take this collection to the next level,” Meaders said.
Over the years, she gathered the artifacts from catalogs and historical exhibitions. Guernsey’s in Manhattan will auction it off at the end of the month (February 28, 2022).
“Her collection focuses on the African-American experience, starting with the scourge of slavery, the struggle for civil rights, blacks in the military, in arts and the entertainment world, in sports and politics and religion and education,” said Arlan Ettinger, president of the auction house.
According to Ettinger, some of the works are relatively unknown, making this auction unique.
“A collection that really has no equal, people far more knowledgeable than I, very qualified Museum directors and historians, have described the Meaders collection as likely the best of its type in the world. I mean, that’s saying a lot,” he noted.
Meaders and Guernsey both hope that the collection will end up in a museum or institution, where it can benefit the general public.