By Ashley Benkarski
STATEN ISLAND, NY– 90-year-old Elizabeth Meaders has spent much of her life amassing an impressive collection of African American items now up for auction.
Meaders said the 20,000 items represent the deep and varied history of Black Americans,
foreign and domestic, and that she prays her collection will find a home at a university or
become an instant museum.
Further, Meaders has offered to accompany the collection, assisting its new owner in navigating through the items.
The Collection was diligently divided into 14 categories by Meaders, including the Scourge of Slavery, the Struggle for Civil Rights, Blacks in the Military, in Sports, in the Arts and
Entertainment, and Legendary Black Leaders. Other categories include Black Women, Religion, Politics, and Education, representatives said.
Meaders said she is praying that the items are bought and given the chance to educate
Americans on our history–the bitter and the sweet.
Working in New York City as a school teacher, Meaders’s passion was ignited through her
admiration for baseball and Civil Rights legend Jackie Robinson, propelling her “on her quest to assemble a collection truly reflective of the History and Culture of African Americans from the early and painful days of slavery right up to present times,” Meaders’s representative said.
The Meaders Collection are offered as one lot on March 15 via Guernsey’s auction house, with the auction open to bidders globally at liveauctioneers.com and invaluable.com and conducted with Guernsey’s directly via the telephone at 212-794-2280 or written bids.
Guernsey’s is known for its representation of the Rosa Parks Archive and representatives
relayed the auction house “is honored to be presenting this important body of material.”
“There is no collection either institutional or privately owned that represents the totality of the Black experience in America as comprehensively as the Elizabeth Meaders Collection,” said Randy Weinstein, Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Center.
Meaders’s collection includes protest memorabilia, such as the iconic “I AM A MAN” sign from the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike to posters promoting the appearance of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Southern Baptist Church the day of his assassination.
Though her collection spans tens of thousands of items, one particular acquisition is closest to her heart, she said. That item is one of only 199 medals commissioned by Benjamin Butler to be made by Tiffany Co. for Black troops that fought in the Civil War. Butler, assuming that when the war was over the Black soldiers’ sacrifice would be swept under the rug, spent his own money to have the medals made.
Meaders spent nearly two decades tracking one of the medals down and said it was her most cherished item out of all she’s collected over the years.
“Elizabeth Meaders is the most extraordinary collector of Black memorabilia I’ve ever
encountered… for years her personal archive has been a rich source of knowledge for
historians like me. Her collection is a treasure,” said Robin D. G. Kelley, Distinguished Professor and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History, UCLA.
Meaders said she “designed this American history collection as a patriotic healing and teaching instrument to bridge the knowledge gap about African American history caused by the egregious reality that the American school system has failed to include African American history and African American contributions in its teaching curriculums nationwide.”
Meaders said she most favored the military collection, as it represents the resilience and
sacrifice Black servicemembers have imparted on American history in the face of oppression.
“I commend Ms. Meaders for her passion and noble commitment to telling the story of African American history through precious artifacts of that history,” said Harvard University’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “It is a story that cannot be told enough, and so I hope her collection finds a home where it can illuminate and inspire generations for many years to come.”
Historic figures represented in the Elizabeth Meaders Collection include Harriet Tubman, Robert Smalls, Mammy Pleasant, Crispus Attucks, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Annie Malone, Col. Charles Young, Bill Richmond, Bessie Coleman, Bill Pickett, Father Divine, Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, Satchell Paige, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker and Barack Obama.
For auction registration and additional information visit www.guernseys.com.