Elizabeth Meaders, a 90-year-old former teacher, will sell her collection of African-American artifacts. Guernsey’s, a New York-based auction house, will lead The Meaders Collection into a single collection on March 15, 2020 at 2:00 PM EST.
The Meaders Collection includes artifacts such as baseball legend Satchel Paige’s rocking chair, Klu Klux Klan robe, Revolutionary and Civil War soldier medals, Sammy Davis’ NAACP Spingarn award and more.
Meaders says she “designed this collection of American history as a healing and patriotic teaching tool to bridge the gap in knowledge about African-American history caused by the glaring reality that the American school system has no failed to include African-American history and African-American contributions in its nationwide curricula Meader’s hope is that his collection will find a new home in a university or become a museum instantaneous.
Tammy Gibson: What made you start collecting?
Elizabeth Meaders: As a teacher, I was aware that our history had been systematically omitted from the school curriculum nationwide, and where it exists, it was correctly interpreted in a systematic and often racist way.
TG: What is the main motivation for your collection?
EM: My motivation is to present my collection as the entirety of the documented African-American experience. It is documented in 14 subjects in specific areas so that, in a way, the collection could be 14 museums in one. Each subject is worthy of its own museum. My collection on sports, military, education and politics can be a separate museum or a huge museum where you can wander from subject to subject. Its instant history at your feet that you have never encountered before.
TG: Who inspired you to start collecting?
EM: I come from a family where African American history has always been discussed. I was fascinated by Jackie Robinson. I love sports, especially baseball. I loved everything about how he defied the odds to become a superhero. Moreover, he was racially aware. Everything about him inspired me to try to investigate sports history and another level of history that’s even more important for African Americans to embrace and who the military was. The fact is, African Americans have played a military role in the creation of this country from the Revolutionary War to the present day. When I discovered how vast our history and contributions were, I became obsessed with fixing the story.
TG: What was the first piece or collection you acquired?
EM: The first piece I recovered was a newspaper article about Jackie Robinson. Everything about him made me happy. I started making Jackie Robinson scrapbooks. The newspaper article was my first piece that was supposed to go in the trash but ended up in my scrapbook.
TG: What do you enjoy most about your job as a collector?
EM: Hunting is what every collector loves. You go to places where you see other collectors, such as fairs such as flea markets and antique shops. You hope that maybe there will be something you can relate to. Everywhere I go I ask if there is anything African-American history. Most dealers don’t collect or curate African American material because they don’t have an audience for it. When I go to trade shows and flea markets, no one at the front desk looks like me. There is no black person next to me. There is no reason for dealers to store African American history. African American collections are hard to find. I go there with the hope that it will be my day when I discover something important. This is my adventure of the day.
TG: Why do you think it’s time to auction your collections?
Elizabeth Meaders: My collection is so big that it exceeded my space and my energy. It’s been long overdue. We live in a multicultural world, and the only way to respect your fellow citizens is to know enough of their history to respect them. Everyone has helped make America great. The history of African Americans and their contributions have never been sufficiently considered even to include them in an honest description of American history.
What advice would you give to a budding collector?
Elizabeth Meaders: Collecting is not for everyone. It is a self-motivated activity. You will be sacrificing your time, space and money. Once you’re motivated, your next step is to review books on collecting and join a collecting club. Examine museums on the Internet and find out what kinds of objects are worth your time, energy and money. Don’t buy items that are irrelevant. Have a specific goal and choose a topic that interests you. Being a collector should be a labor of love.
The Meaders Collection auction will be held online March 15, 2022 at 2:00 PM EST at liveauctioneers.com and invaluable.com, and will be conducted with Guernsey’s directly by phone at 212-794-2280 or by written bids. To register for the auction and for additional information, visit www.guernseys.com.
Tammy Gibson is an author, reenactor and Black History traveler. Find her on social media @sankofatravelher.