In Elizabeth Meaders’s dining room, the horrors of slavery are displayed on the table: reward posters for the capture of people fleeing enslavement and the tools — a branding iron, wooden hobbles and a bullwhip — for punishing them.
In the room by her front door, an exhibit of military items used by Black soldiers includes headgear worn by Tuskegee Airmen in World War II and a parade helmet used by the famed buffalo soldiers in the 1800s.
In the living room, the couch is flanked by a life-size wax figure of the baseball slugger Hank Aaron and shelves of items honoring Black athletes, including a pair of Muhammad Ali’s tall white boxing shoes.
From the outside, Ms. Meaders’s home on Staten Island is unremarkable — a narrow, three-story box in the working-class neighborhood of Mariners Harbor. But to step inside, with her as your guide, is to journey through the Black American experience, from the horrors of slavery and the dream of the civil rights movement to the glory of stars like James Brown and Cab Calloway.
The collection of roughly 20,000 items that Ms. Meaders, a retired New York City schoolteacher, has been building for more than six decades is one of the largest collections of African American historical artifacts in the country.
Hundreds of items are arranged thematically throughout the house, turning it into something of a museum, if one that few people have ever seen in person.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Ms. Meaders said recently while walking through the exhibits. Most of the collection, she added, is kept in storage crates in closets, the basement and the garage.
Ms. Meaders, a retired New York City schoolteacher, said she began collecting in her youth with mementos of Jackie Robinson and other Black athletes, then widened her collecting to “surround myself with things that lifted my spirits.”
But she is now 90, and with limited years and storage space left, she is finally selling her collection in one bulk offering on March 15 at Guernsey’s auction house in Manhattan.
“I can’t go any further — the collection is outgrowing the house and pushing me out,” said Ms. Meaders, whose two daughters are not interested in taking it over. “I’m used up and the space is used up, so it has to be transferred into competent hands that can take it to the next …….