Xernona Clayton is taking my name, as the energizer bunny, away from me, and I have to admit that she deserves it. She keeps on going, and going . . . No later than March 25, 2017, the entire city of Atlanta turned out to bestow another honor upon the “living doll.” This new honor was entitled “The Purposeful Life and Legacy of Xernona Clayton, with a team of who’s who including Governor & Mrs. Roy Barnes, Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador & Mrs. Andrew Young, Mayor Kasim Reed, Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Blank, and Mr. Ted Turner who were honorary hosts of the affair. There was a group of Honorary Committee members of whom I was pleased to be a part. One has to love Xernona because she is cute and sweet and kind and tiny. But do not make the mistake of underestimating this lady. She packs a powerful punch.
(written in 2015)
Xernona Clayton has “been marching all the time,” as her 1991 autobiography of the same title [I’ve Been Marching All the Time: An Autobiography, Longstreet Press], recalls. She marches to the beat of an unusual drummer; and in doing so, she has covered a lot of territory, tackled many issues, reached out to help many people along the journey, and accomplished much. As a matter of fact, one would think she would be ready to hang up her marching boots. But that is not the case for this self-motivated lady. I suppose that at this date and time (2015) she is most known as the creator/founder and executive producer of The Trumpet Awards and the CEO and president of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc. However, the world also knows her as the lady who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King helping them with the daunting tasks of planning and organizing initiatives for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
This information about Xernona Clayton, the history maker, will fill in the gaps and tell something about who she is and what she has done to change the world. From the beginning, the credit goes to her parents, Reverend James M. Brewster and Mrs. Lillie Brewster, who taught Xernona and her twin sister Xenobia the golden rule of “do unto others.” The twins watched their parents who were actively engaged in the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Muskogee and learned the importance of compassion and giving back to the community.
Xernona (known as “big”) and Xenobia were born on August 30, 1930, and the baby girls were considered living dolls from the time they belted out their newborn cry. They attended school in Muskogee, OK and graduated from Manual Training High School in 1948. Xernona Brewster earned a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree from Tennessee State University in Nashville. She pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago. In 1957, Xernona married noted journalist and civil rights activist Edward Clayton, who died in 1966. She later married Judge Paul L. Brady, the first African American appointed as a Federal Administrative Law judge. She and Judge Brady have been married over forty years.
The Chicago Urban League hired Clayton in 1952 as an undercover agent investigating employment discrimination against African Americans. This move kicked off her trailblazing career and whet her appetite for civic involvement. From Chicago, she moved to Los Angeles and responded to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s plea for volunteers to keep children from dropping out of school.
Clayton moved to Atlanta in 1965 and accepted a position with the SCLC where she worked with Dr. King. She was a journalist for the Atlanta Voice and she also traveled extensively with Mrs. King on her nationwide concert tours. As an activist, Clayton was instrumental in the desegregation of all Atlanta’s hospital facilities by coordinating the activities of the city’s African-American doctors in a project called the Doctors’ Committee for Implementation. This effort served as a model for cities and other states across the country and received recognition from the National Medical Association for its impact. In 1968, she became the first black woman in the South to host a regularly scheduled prime-time talk show, Variations, which became The Xernona Clayton Show on WAGA-TV in Atlanta. Her guests included folks like Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. [She also interviewed me (the writer) – in my role as the wife of the first Black vice Mayor of Atlanta.]
Her persistent fight against the dragons of prejudice and bigotry was never more apparent than in 1968, when Calvin Craig, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, denounced the Klan and credited Xernona’s influence with his change.
In 1982, Clayton began her long standing and impressive career with Turner Broadcasting System (TBS). Here, at TBS, she assumed many roles including producing documentaries, hosting a public affairs program entitled Open Up and serving as director and vice-president of public affairs. Ted Turner, founder of TBS, promoted Clayton to corporate vice-president for urban affairs in 1988. In this capacity, she directed internal and external projects for the corporation, and served as liaison between Turner Broadcasting (TBS Super Station, CNN, Headline News, TNT, Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks) and civic groups in Atlanta and across the country. In 1993, Clayton created the Trumpet Awards for Turner Broadcasting to honor African American achievements.
When former President Jimmy Carter was governor of Georgia, he appointed Clayton to the State Motion Picture and Television Commission. Further service to other organizations included the Academy for Television Arts and Sciences, the National Urban League, on the board of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and chairperson of the Atlanta University Board of Trustees, She is a member of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
The recipient of numerous accolades, Clayton received the Leadership and Dedication to Civil Rights Award and the Drum Major for Justice Award from SCLC in 2004. The National Association of Minorities in Cable (NAMIC) presented its highest award, the Mickey Leland Award, which honors the late United States Congressman. Clayton, along with former Congressman Kweisi Mfume and the late Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown, was awarded the 1996 Distinguished Leadership Award by NAFEO (The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education). She also received NAFEO’s 2003 Corporate Award. She was honored with the first Local Community Service Award from Spelman College for her continued dedication to leadership in the community. The State of Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity presented her with the Leadership and Dedication in Civil Rights Award. She received the first Coretta Scott King Award from the SCLC, the Madam C. J. Walker Award from EBONY’S Outstanding Women in Marketing and Communications, and the Outstanding Corporate Professional Award from the Power Networking Family.
She has received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters Degree from Clark Atlanta University and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree from Tennessee State University.
In her honor, the Atlanta Chapter of the Association of Black Journalists established the Xernona Clayton Scholarship. The American Intercultural Student Exchange (AISE) also created a scholarship in her honor that is dedicated to increasing open relationships, internationally, through a global high school student exchange program. Each year, since 1987, Clayton chooses an outstanding minority high school student to spend a year living abroad with a European family, all expenses paid. In addition, through her foundation, the Xernona Clayton Foundation, Ms. Clayton opened a school in Kumasi, Ghana, West Africa in 2010, which educates hundreds of students in Atwima-Heman Village, an area where there is a scarcity of educational opportunities.
In September, 2011, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed joined members of the Atlanta City Council, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, and hundreds of other community and civic leaders in recognizing the lifetime contributions of Xernona Clayton with the dedication of an honorary street and park plaza. Baker Street, N.W. between Piedmont Avenue, N.W. and Centennial Olympic Park Drive, N.W. was named Xernona Clayton Way; and the plaza at Hardy Ivy Park was named Xernona Clayton Plaza. Ms. Clayton was the second woman and the first African-American woman to have a downtown street named after her, following legendary author Margaret Mitchell.
Tireless and passionate and most definitely a “game changer,” Ms. Clayton, continues her commitment to countless civic causes here in Georgia and across the nation. The International Civil Rights Walk of Fame was created in 2004 through the efforts of Xernona Clayton to give recognition to those valiant soldiers of justice who sacrificed and struggled to make equality a reality. This extraordinary display of the footprints, imbedded in cement, has enhanced the historic value of the city of Atlanta and enriched the cultural heritage. It has become one of the tourist attractions in Atlanta. To date there are one hundred and ten (110) footprint that include United State Presidents, civil rights leaders and other who have played a major part in our struggle for racial justice and freedom.
The Trumpet Awards, now in its 23rd year, has grown into a world-wide brand. Clayton continues at the helm and is the executive producer of Trumpet Awards and she is also the president and CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc. The Trumpet Awards is a prominent annual event highlighting African American accomplishments and contributions. Initiated by Turner Broadcasting, The Trumpet Awards show has been televised annually and distributed internationally to over 185 countries around the world depicting to the global audience that there are African American achievers who continue to do great things.
Ms. Clayton’s dedication to the community is reflected in the many hours she spends promoting human relations through bi-racial groups devoted to improving racial understanding. Xernona speaks all over the world and has been widely honored for her contributions to humanity. She is included in various editions of some very impressive biographical publications.
This might not be the way one describes a history maker, but I have been around long enough to recognize a living doll. In addition I take a personal privilege and do this – to call my friend a living doll. And to prove my point, Mattel, Inc. (the toy company that created the Barbie Dolls) created a doll in the likeness of Xernona Clayton in 2004. The doll was presented to Xernona during the 12th Annual Trumpet Awards.
Xernona was recently quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “We’re going to keep inspiring. We’re going to keep educating. We’ve got to keep fueling the fire with the burning desire to do better,” she concluded. This sounds like Xernona Clayton will be making history for years to come. I can’t wait to see what she does next.