Kentucky State University recently announced that civil rights leader and pioneering broadcasting executive Xernona Clayton will serve as the 2017 fall commencement convocation speaker. Commencement will be held Dec. 16 at 9 a.m. in the Carl H. Smith Auditorium of David H. Bradford Hall.
Clayton worked undercover for the Chicago Urban League, investigating employment discrimination before moving to Atlanta. She worked closely with Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., helping organize fundraising initiatives for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1966, she also coordinated the activities of Atlanta’s African-American physicians in Doctors’ Committee for Implementation, a project which helped force the desegregation of all hospital facilities in Atlanta.
As a journalist, Clayton penned a column for the Atlanta Voice and later became the first African-American in the South to host a primetime television talk show, The Xernona Clayton Show. Her guests included Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. An appearance by Calvin Craig, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, resulted in a dialogue that eventually influenced him to resign from the Klan and renounce the organization. Clayton later hosted Open Up, a public affairs program for the Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) network. She also produced documentaries for TBS.
In the early 1980s, Clayton became the first African-American woman executive at TBS after Ted Turner appointed her director and vice president of public affairs. She later became the assistant corporate vice president for urban affairs, where she served as a liaison between TBS, local and national community organizations.
Clayton is the founder and CEO of the Trumpet Awards, an annual awards program televised by TBS and distributed to over 185 countries.
She has received numerous awards for her activism, including the SCLC Drum Major for Justice Award; the National Association of Minorities in Cable’s Mickey Leland Award; the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education’s Distinguished Leadership Award and the State of Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity’s Leadership and Dedication in Civil Rights Award.
Clayton co-authored a revised edition of her late husband’s (Ed Clayton) biography of Martin Luther King Jr. called The Peaceful Warrior. She is currently married to retired jurist Paul L. Brady, the first African-American appointed as a federal administrative law judge. In 1991, she published her autobiography; I’ve Been Marching All The Time.
She earned her undergraduate degree with honors from Tennessee State Agricultural and Industrial College, now known as Tennessee State University. She pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago.