In a three-story Staten Island home is one of the largest collections of African American historical artifacts in the country. From Muhammad Ali’s boxing shoes and Tuskegee Airmen headgear, more than 20,000 items are now headed to the auction block.
Elizabeth Meaders, a 90-year-old retired New York City schoolteacher, has been building a personal collection signifying the Black experience for more than six decades, CBS News reports.
Over the years, she has maintained her collection on a teacher’s salary and through fees earned from lectures and exhibitions of artifacts. Meaders even refinanced her mortgage twice.
Despite her reluctance, Meaders has decided it’s finally time to part with her collection. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the Staten Island resident is experiencing ongoing health problems, including diabetes, so she says selling the collective items is “overdue.”
“It’s taking up too much space in my house as well,” she added.
Conceived at the age of 18, Meaders’ collection began with magazines and other memorabilia linked to baseball great Jackie Robinson.
Today her home is set up like a museum.
In the living room dwells reward posters for the capture of people fleeing enslavement and tools used for punishment. Meaders’ basement contains her self-titled “civil rights, civil wrongs” collection of letters written by Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, typed instructions given to protesters during the Montgomery bus boycott, and handwritten signs from the 1963 March on Washington.
The rest of Meaders’ house is history.
“Everywhere, every day Black history is being made,” Meaders told CBS. “So it’s up to us to embrace it, and respect it, and promote it.”
Some experts, who even appraised Meaders’ collection, believe that the true value of her pieces lies in its in-depth storytelling of Black history. They could even see the items in a museum, echoing Meaders’s wishes.
“Unlike other collections that are rather glitzy and have things like Lincoln’s autograph, Elizabeth has filled in all of the gaps of the minutiae of history,” Wyatt Day, former head of African Americana at Swann Auction Galleries, told Smithsonian.
Diane DeBlois, a co-owner of aGatherin’ appraised the collection at $10 million, The New York Times reported. DeBlois believes that Meaders’ fundraising efforts to “go toe-to-toe with some pretty impressive collectors to outbid them” increased the collection in value.
Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s Auction House, will be hosting the auction on March 15 at 2 p.m. ET.
“Hey, Mayor Adams, come on. New York City, with all its greatness, does not have a full-blown African American Museum, and you’ve got one sitting here on Staten Island,” Ettinger said, adding that he hopes the buyer of the collection keeps it in New York.