Elizabeth Meaders, a 90-year-old former teacher, will be selling her lifelong collection of African American artifacts. Guernsey’s, an auction house, based in New York, will be conducting The Meaders Collection as a single collection on March 15, 2020, at 2pm EST.
The Meaders Collection includes artifacts such as baseball legend Satchel Paige’s rocking chair, Klu Klux Klan robe, medals from Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers, Sammy Davis’ NAACP Spingarn Award and much more.
Meaders says that 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.” Meader’s hope is that her collection will find a new home at a university or become an instant museum.
Tammy Gibson: What compelled you to 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 does exist, it was correctly interpreted in a systematic and often racist matter.
TG: What is the primary motivation behind your collecting?
EM: My motivation is to present my collection as the entirety of the African American experience being documented. It’s 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 sports, military, education, and politics collection can be a museum separately or a massive museum where you can walk from topic to topic. 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 was always discussed. I was fascinated with Jackie Robinson. I love sports, especially baseball. I liked everything about the way he defied the odds to become a superhero. In addition, he was race-conscious. Everything about him inspired me to try to investigate the history of sports and another level of history that is even more important for African Americans to embrace and that was the military. The fact is that African Americans played a military role in the creation of this country from the Revolutionary War to the present. When I found out just how wide our history and contributions were, I became obsessed with correcting history.
TG: What was the first piece or collection you acquired?
EM: The first piece I collected was a newspaper article about Jackie Robinson. Everything about him made me happy. I started doing scrapbooks of Jackie Robinson. The newspaper article was my first piece that was supposed to go in the garbage but ended up in my scrapbook.
TG: What do you enjoy the most about being a collector?
EM: The hunt is what every collector enjoys. You go to places where you see other collectors, such as shows such as flea markets and antique shops. You are hopeful that maybe there will be something you can relate to. Wherever I go, I ask if there is anything African American historical. Most dealers do not collect or keep African American material because they don’t have an audience for it. When I go to shows and flea markets, nobody on the receiving end looks like me. There is nobody black beside me. There is no reason for dealers to warehouse African American history. It’s tough to find African American collections. I go there with the hope that this will be my day that I will discover something important. That’s my adventure of the day.
TG: Why do you feel it’s time to auction your collections?
Elizabeth Meaders: My collection is so large that it has outgrown my space and energy. It’s long overdue. We live in a multicultural world, and the only way to respect your fellow citizens is if you know their history enough to respect them. Everybody has contributed to making America great. The history of African Americans and their contributions have never been considered enough even to include them in an honest depiction of American history.
What advice would you give to an aspiring collector?
Elizabeth Meaders: Collecting is not for everybody. It’s a self-motivated activity. You are going to sacrifice your time, space, and money. Once you are motivated, your next step is to examine books about collecting and join a collecting club. Examine museums on the internet and find out what kind of items are worth your time, energy, and money. Don’t buy items that are irrelevant. Have a specific goal and pick a topic that you are interested in collecting. Being a collector has to be a labor of love.
The Meaders Collection auction will be held online on March 15, 2022, at 2 pm EST at liveauctioneers.com and invaluable.com, and conducted with Guernsey’s directly via the telephone at 212-794-2280 or written bids. For auction registration and additional information please go to www.guernseys.com.
Tammy Gibson is an author, re-enactor, and black history traveler. Find her on social media @sankofatravelher.