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Civil Rights Icon, Xernona Clayton Interviewed on Sweet Auburn Stories

Civil Rights Icon, Xernona Clayton Interviewed on Sweet Auburn Stories

    Xernona Clayton,founder, president and CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc. and creator of the Foundation’s Trumpet Awards, spent her 90th birthday – like many of us – celebrating on Zoom. Ms. Clayton watched with eyes as bright as a child’s on Christmas Day as she was fêted by a virtual guest list of family and friends. The woman, who created the Trumpet Awards thirty-plus years ago to amplify the achievements and voices of Black Americans, sat in front of a computer as people spoke lovely things about her, presented her with gifts, and used their gifts to serenade tributes to her. 

    Civil Rights Icon, Xernona Clayton Interviewed on Sweet Auburn Stories

    That was almost four years ago, and Xernona Clayton continues to move (and be moved) enthusiastically and energetically. And the Xernona Clayton celebrations continue as well.

    Civil Rights Icon, Xernona Clayton Interviewed on Sweet Auburn Stories

    Recently, Ms. Clayton sat down with Atlanta raconteur and creative Royce Bable for a public conversation about her life’s work for the Sweet Auburn Stories series produced by Bable’s company in partnership with The Carter Center. The episode’s teasers show a warm, lively and animated discussion between the two, where we witness the charm of both but particularly Ms. Clayton. In honor of this video, let’s learn a bit about Xernona Clayton, a woman who was the confidant to world leaders, a close friend to the late Coretta Scott King, and a leader in her own right. 

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    She was born Xernona Brewster in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her father James was a minister and her mother Elliott (Lillie) was a quarter Cherokee. The Brewsters co-administered an office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Oklahoma, where they met the needs of Native Americans. She had three older half siblings as well as a twin sister, Xenobia. The twins attended Tennessee State University before heading to Chicago for work with the Urban League as undercover racial discrimination investigators. 

    Read more about the Brewster twins:

    A Brave Fight Against a Mysterious Crippler, Ebony June 1960

    Jet April 1,1954

    While in Chicago, Xernona married journalist Ed Clayton, the first editor of Jet magazine, founder of the Atlanta Voice, and an MLK biographer.  The Claytons moved to Atlanta in 1965, where Xernona organized events for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), under the direction of Martin Luther King Jr. Sadly, a year later Ed Clayton passed away, but it didn’t stop Xernona Clayton from continuing her work in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1966, the same year Ed Clayton died, Xernona Clayton worked with a group of Black physicians to coordinate the Doctors’ Committee for Implementation, which desegregated all Atlanta hospitals as well as create a blueprint used by similar groups nationwide. 

    Between 1966 and now, Xernona Clayton became an active leader and voice in Atlanta, often instituting changes that had a nationwide impact. Here are a few highlights according to BlackPast.org:

    • In 1968, she worked for Model Cities, the federal program associated with the War on Poverty. 
    • Influenced Calvin Craig, the Grand Dragon of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan, to leave the KKK.
    • After pointing out the absence of African Americans on television in Atlanta, Clayton was hired by WAGA-TV, the Atlanta CBS affiliate, to host her own talk show. She became the first African American to do so in the South. 
    • In 1979, she went to work for the newly founded Turner Broadcasting, where she worked for over 30 years. Her last and most prestigious role was as Corporate Vice President for Urban Affairs.
    • In 1993, she founded The Trumpet Foundation and The Trumpet Awards. 
    • In 2004, she created the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame
    • Clayton retired from Turner Broadcasting in 1997. 

    Clayton serves on the board of directors of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. And in 1991, she published an autobiography, I’ve Been Marching All The Time. According to Wikipedia, “The book focused on her life and her views of the Civil Rights Movement.” In 1974, she married Paul L. Brady, the first African American to be appointed as a Federal Administrative Law Judge. A lifelong Baptist, Xernona Clayton is a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. 

    According to Wikipedia and the AJC, “On International Women’s Day in 2023, the City of Atlanta unveiled a statue of Clayton in the plaza also named in her honor on West Peachtree Street. The location in downtown Atlanta was symbolic for Clayton, as she had been ‘thrown out of a hotel’ on the street during the Civil Rights Movement.” 

    One of the most compelling and beautiful profiles of Ms. Clayton was written by the AJC’s Ernie Suggs. There are things mentioned in his piece that bring understanding to this petite woman’s big stature. (Did you know her nickname was “Big” as in the big twin? Xenobia was called “Little.”) Read Who is Xenona Clayton? Much more than a matchmaker before watching Royce Bable’s conversation with the icon. 

    Don’t forget to subscribe to Bable’s Roycebee Creatives YouTube channel and watch the riveting interview with Xernon. And take the time to watch other Sweet Auburn stories on his channel. 

    Robin Caldwell

    Robin Caldwell is the blogger behind freshandfriedhard.com and academic researcher focusing on Black history, heritage and culture. Public historian primarily in Black American historical foodways: antebellum and regional.

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    Robin Caldwell

    Robin Caldwell is the blogger behind freshandfriedhard.com and academic researcher focusing on Black history, heritage and culture. Public historian primarily in Black American historical foodways: antebellum and regional.

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