By Kiersten Willis,

Elizabeth Meaders has been building her collection of 50,000 Black history items for years and now she’s ready to part with it.

“I’ve spent every penny I have, every penny I hope to have, every penny I ought to have,” the retired teacher from New York told NBC Nightly News Monday, May 29 . She collected the items from dealers and memorabilia shows over the past· five decades and admitted to having to refinance her home a few times in the process.

[Editor’s note: ABHM’s founder, Dr. James Cameron, also began collecting items relating to African American history in his Milwaukee home in the 1970-80s. In 1984 he began exhibiting them in a series of storefront museums, and in 1988, he opened America’s Black Holocaust in a large building, where they were housed for twenty years. Read more about this museum and its four themes, its founder and its future new home.]

Appraised at $10 million, [Ms. Meaders’] items spanning the plight of Black people in America — from enslavement to the civil rights movement — fill every room of her five-bedroom home.

“I come from a family where African-American history is very important,” she says, noting the last slave freed on Staten Island was her great-great grandfather. “And I hold it in a high place in my heart because I know the significance of this neglected history.”

The Butler Medal was awarded to gallantry of Black Troops during Civil War. It holds the distinction of being the only medal ever struck for black troops. Credit: Smithsonian Institution.

Meaders has loaned items to museums over the years but refused to sell items individually.

Now, that comes to an end.

“I’m ready to let go,” she says of the collection, which includes her favorite item: a rare Butler medal awarded to brave Black civil war soldiers by a white general.

“Because of my age and because of the times.…We’re in a turmoil in this country,” she explains.

Meaders hopes someone else can preserve her work and share it with the public.




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