Investigator. Civil Rights Leader. Talk Show Host. Broadcast Executive.
Xernona Clayton began her career in the Civil Rights Movement with the National Urban League in Chicago, working undercover to investigate racial discrimination committed by employers against African-Americans. She moved to Atlanta in 1965, and became an organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), under the direction of Martin Luther King, Jr. Clayton never marched with King, citing a fear of being arrested, but she helped to plan King’s marches.
In 1966, Clayton coordinated the Doctors’ Committee for Implementation, a group of African American physicians who worked for and achieved the desegregation of all Atlanta hospitals. The Doctors’ Committee served as a model for nationwide hospital desegregation, and was honored by the National Medical Association. Clayton then headed the Atlanta Model Cities program, a federally funded group dedicated to improving the quality of desegregated neighborhoods. Clayton met Calvin Craig, the Grand Dragon of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan , through the Model Cities program, as Craig served in a policy position with the organization. Craig cited Clayton’s influence when he decided to denounce the Klan in April 1968.
In 1967, Clayton became the first Southern African-American to host a daily prime time talk show. The show was broadcast on WAGA-TV in Atlanta and was renamed, “The Xernona Clayton Show.” Clayton joined Turner Broadcasting in 1929 as a producer of documentary specials. In 1980, she served as director of public relations for Turner Broadcasting. In 1988, Clayton became the first African American Assistant Corporate Vice-President of Urban Affairs at Turner Broadcasting System. She became founder, president and CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc. and Creator and Executive Producer of the Foundation’s Trumpet Awards (1993). The award highlights African American accomplishments and contributions.
At John Lewis’ funeral, Xernona Clayton was on the program and the world fell in love with her. Her charm, wit and moving stories. But Xernona Clayton is much more than a friend of John Lewis. I am reading her book, ‘I’ve Been Marching All the Time.’ The title says it all. She’s been here. And she’s been doing the work.