New York Woman Set To Auction Off Her Personal Collection Of 20,000 Artifacts Documenting Black History

Elizabeth Meaders, a 90-year old retired teacher, spent the last seven decades amassing her prized possessions.

An unprecedented personal collection of more than 20,000 artifacts documenting the travails and triumphs of African American history is headed for auction. CBS New York reports that the pieces, amassed over seven decades by Elizabeth Meaders, 90, will be up for sale by auction on March 15, with the bidding starting at $1 million.

Meaders, a retired teacher, currently displays the entire collection in her Staten Island home. The assortment of pictures, posters, signs, statues and memorabilia tell a comprehensive history of the Black American experience. She purchased the pieces mainly from a modest teacher’s salary and from refinancing her mortgage at least twice.

She’s reluctant to auction the pieces that took a lifetime to collect, but Meaders believes that the time has come, as she suffers from diabetes and other ailments, reports Smithsonian Magazine.

“It’s taking up too much space in my house as well. It’s overdue, really,” she added.

Every inch of her three-story house displays a piece of Black history. Some of the highlights include an FBI wanted poster for Black Panther activist Angela Davis and the 1920s death mask of Jamaican-born Black nationalist Marcus Garvey.

Each room of her home represents a different era or theme. For example, Meaders’ downstairs living room honors Black athletes. At 18, she began collecting items linked to the man who crossed the racial barrier in Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson. Since then, her sports collection includes a life-size wax figure of Hank Aaron, and boxer Ken Norton’s heavyweight champion belt.

"Everywhere, everyday Black history is being made. So it's up to us to embrace it, and respect it, and promote it," Meaders told CBS New York.

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Placing a value on Meader’s unique collection isn’t easy. “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.

Some experts say the true value of the collection stems from its comprehensiveness and the story behind the collection.

Diane DeBlois, a co-owner of aGatherin’ appraised the collection at $10 million, The New York Times reported. DeBlois said Meaders’ ability to raise money through fundraising efforts like bake sales and school raffles to outbid established collectors only further enhances the value of her collection.

Elizabeth Meaders, Black art

Courtesy of CBS News (Original footage)

Elizabeth Meaders

Arlan Ettinger of Guernsey's Auction House, which will host the auction, told CBS New York that the sale of a large collection like Meaders’ is unprecedented, adding that he hopes it stays intact and perhaps gets transferred to a museum.

"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," said Ettinger.

If it doesn’t end up in a museum, Meaders said she would love to see it included in Barack Obama’s presidential library currently under construction in Chicago, among other places on her wish list.

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