Civil rights activist selected as Legacy Breakfast speaker
Civil rights leader and activist Xernona Clayton, a colleague and friend of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, will serve as the speaker at Auburn University at Montgomery’s Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Breakfast on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 9 a.m. in rooms 221 to 223 of the Taylor Center. Attendees can register for the event at aum.edu/mlkbreakfast.
“We are eager to hear from Mrs. Clayton as she was one of the foot soldiers who worked closely with Dr. King,” said Auburn University Assistant Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Nichole Thompson. “Beyond sharing her experiences with and impressions of Dr. and Mrs. King, she also offers important perspective as a change agent within the civil rights movement as well as the television industry.”
Clayton worked closely with Dr. and Mrs. King after accepting a position with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta in 1965. She traveled extensively with Mrs. King on her nationwide concert tours. In 1966, she coordinated activities of Atlanta’s black doctors for a project that resulted in the desegregation of the city’s hospital facilities. The National Medical Association honored the project, which served as a model for other states to follow.
In 1967, Clayton became the first African-American in the Southeast to have her own television program, “The Xernona Clayton Show,” which aired in Atlanta CBS affiliate WAGA-TV. She eventually made the move to Turner Broadcasting, where she worked for nearly 30 years as an executive.
After being appointed as TBS’ corporate vice president for urban affairs with the network in 1988, she directed internal and external projects and served as a liaison between TBS and various local and national civic groups. She is also the founder, president and CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation and creator of the Trumpet Awards, which highlight the contributions and achievements of African-American citizens.
Since its initiation in 1993, the Trumpet Awards ceremony has been televised annually and distributed internationally to more than 185 countries.
Perhaps her most remarkable achievement may have been her profound effect on Calvin Craig, a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon who advocated segregation during the 1960s. Clayton and Craig met after both became involved in the Model Cities program in 1967. Through their frequent debates on race and society, they formed what seemed to be an unlikely friendship. In 1968, Craig resigned from the KKK, denounced the organization and credited Clayton for changing his perspective.
“Mrs. Clayton’s compassion for people and her ability to navigate crucial conversations and life-changing actions are philosophies we can all learn and connect with,” Thompson said. “She wasn’t afraid to initiate critical conversations. And that’s what Auburn University at Montgomery seeks to do as host of the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Breakfast. We are a campus that values and promotes diversity and inclusivity, as well as community engagement. Part of our commitment to the community is to ensure we continue to act on Dr. King’s dream.”
Clayton was uniquely positioned to understand King’s hopes and aspirations. She and her late first husband, Ed Clayton, collaborated on “The Peaceful Warrior,” a biography of Dr. King. Xernona Clayton’s autobiography, “I’ve Been Marching All the Time,” was published in 1991. She is a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. served as co-pastors.