On August 14, 1923, Mayme was born to Jerry Agnew, Sr. and Mary Dorothy Agnew (née Knight) in Van Buren, Arkansas. Her father, who successfully owned a general store, was the first African-American business owner in their city; this accomplishment brought immense pride to the Agnew family. Her mother, who was a homemaker, was renowned for her cooking and especially her dinner parties.
In 1932, when Mayme was nine years old, she and her classmates visited the library in her all-Black school. She saw that none of the books were about skilled and talented Black people; however, she knew that they existed, just from looking at her parents. She felt that African-Americans were purposely being omitted and that she had to work to preserve the history of African-Americans, lest it all be forgotten or erased. In a reflection that her youngest son, Lloyd relayed in “Preserving African-American Legacy: Mayme A. Clayton” by Ramy Eletreby, he shared that her experience in the school library was an epiphanous moment that led to her mission in life. He affirmed, “My mother was a very spiritual person … She was raised Southern Baptist and because of that, she always felt that she had some higher purpose to fulfill.”