Community | Spotlight March 2023

Ms. Xernona Clayton - Women's History Month

Xernona Clayton is the founder, president and CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc. and Creator of the Foundation’s Trumpet Awards. The Trumpet Awards is a prestigious event highlighting African American accomplishments and contributions. Initiated in 1993 by Turner Broadcasting, the Trumpet Awards has been televised annually and distributed internationally to over 185 countries around the world.

Clayton was born Xernona Brewster on August 30, 1930 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. She and her twin sister Xenobia were daughters of Baptist minister Reverend James M. and Elliott (Lillie) Brewster. Her parents were administrators of Indian affairs in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Both Xernona and Xenobia were models from teenagers through early adult years.

The beautiful, humorous and multifaceted Clayton is also an exquisite actress. She played the part of Harriet Johnson in the 1974 horror film entitled “The House on Skull Mountain,” which was made in Atlanta. Other known actors in this film included actor Victor French, model / dancer / actress Janee Michelle (also known as Geneva Leona Mercadel or Gee Tucker), actor Jean Durand, actor Mike Evans (Good Times actor that portrayed Lionel Jefferson), and the late Leroy R. Johnson (late activist, attorney and Georgia State Senator).

Clayton received her Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Tennessee State Agricultural and Industrial College (now, Tennessee State University) in 1952 and received a scholarship from the University of Chicago for graduate studies.

Clayton was married to journalist and activist Ed Clayton from 1957 until his death in 1966. She later married Judge Paul L. Brady, who is the first Black to be appointed as a Federal Administrative Law Judge (appointed in 1974). She is a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church, formerly co-pastored by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

While Ms. Clayton was a teacher in Chicago during the 1950s, she worked with the National Urban League. She volunteered for a school dropout program in Los Angeles, California in the early 1960s. Along with Coretta Scott King, Clayton organized various Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) events. She was also a columnist and journalist.

She began her television career in 1967 and became the south’s first Black person to have her own television show. “The Xernona Clayton Show” (originally, “Themes and Variations”) was a regular feature on WAGA-TV, CBS affiliate in Atlanta. Her program was received in both Black and white communities and featured such celebrities as singers Lena Horne, Mahalia Jackson and Harry Belafonte.

Xernona Clayton was employed at Turner Broadcasting for nearly 30 years where she served as a corporate executive. In 1988, Xernona Clayton was appointed Corporate Vice President for Urban Affairs with Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. In this capacity, she directed internal and external projects for the Corporation, and served as liaison between Turner Broadcasting (TBS SuperStation, CNN, Headline News, TNT, Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks) and civic groups in Atlanta and across the country. As a corporate executive, Mrs. Clayton was one of the highest-ranking female employees in Turner Broadcasting System.

Xernona moved to Atlanta in 1965 where she accepted a position with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and worked closely with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mrs. Clayton also traveled extensively with Mrs. Coretta Scott King on her nationwide concert tours.

Coretta Scott King (Left) and Xernona Clayton (Right)

Dedicated to promoting racial understanding, Xernona Clayton has been a leader in civic projects and civil rights activities for several years. In 1966, she coordinated the activities of Atlanta’s Black doctors in a project called Doctors’ Committee for Implementation, which resulted in the desegregation of all hospital facilities in Atlanta. This project served as a model and a pilot for other states throughout the country and received national honor from the National Medical Association for its impact.

Her persistent fight against the dragons of prejudice and bigotry was never more apparent than in 1968, when the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan denounced the Klan and credited Xernona’s influence with his change.

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.

A recipient of numerous media awards, Xernona has been widely honored for her contributions to humanity. She is included in various editions of some very impressive biographical publications.

“The Peaceful Warrior” a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. authored by her late husband Ed Clayton and co-authored by Xernona in the revised editions, has been published in several languages. Xernona Clayton’s autobiography, “I’ve Been Marching All the Time”, was published in 1991.

In recognition of Xernona’s contribution to broadcasting, her community and the nation, the American Intercultural Student Exchange (AISE) has created a scholarship in her honor. Each year, since 1987, Ms. Clayton chooses an outstanding minority high school student to spend a year living abroad with a European family, all expenses paid. The Xernona Clayton Scholarship is dedicated to increasing open relationships, internationally, through a global high school student exchange program. Additionally, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists named its scholarship in her honor and annually presents the Xernona Clayton Scholarship to a student pursuing a career in communications.

NAMIC (the National Association of Minorities in Cable) presented, to Ms. Clayton, its highest award, the Mickey Leland Award, which honors the late United States Congressman. Xernona, 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) at impressive ceremonies in Washington, D.C. She also received NAFEO’s 2003 Corporate Award. She has received Honorary Doctorate of Letters Degrees from Clark Atlanta University, Tennessee State University and Alcorn State University. A school was recently named in her honor in Ghana, West Africa.

She was additionally honored in 2004 with two very impressive awards. Spelman College presented Ms. Clayton the first Local Community Service Award, 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.

Along with her other honors, she has received the first Coretta Scott King Award from the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), 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. The Atlanta City Council honored her by naming a street and a park in downtown Atlanta.

Upon the announcement of Xernona’s appointment as the first Black female corporate executive, Ted Turner said, “Xernona has an impressive record of accomplishments and we are proud to recognize her commitment to bettering human relations with this promotion.”  – written by John B Smith Jr., Atlanta Inquirer

Bounce is pleased to be a part of the world Ms. Clayton has inhabited and help in continuing the legacy of excellence Ms. Clayton started.

Sources:  Atlanta Inquirer, On Common Ground News