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Clayton, Xernona 1930–

Xernona Clayton 1930

Broadcasting executive

Learned Early Lessons

Experienced Achievements in Activism

Was a Television Programming Pioneer

Selected writings

Sources

Assistant corporate vice-president of urban affairs at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS) in Atlanta, Georgia, Xernona Clayton is the originator of the extremely popular Moments in History, one-minute broadcasts on black Americans that are televised daily during Black History Month.

Clayton has been on both sides of the camera. She was the first black woman in the South to host a regularly scheduled prime-time television talk show. Premiering in 1968 on WAGA-TV in Atlanta as Themes and Variations, the program was well received in both black and white communities. Featuring such celebrities as singers Lena Home, Mahalia Jackson, and Harry Belafonte as well as more controversial figures, the program was renamed The Xernona Clayton Show on its first anniversary, reflecting the popularity of its host. Six months later the show went into syndication with a one-hour version aired on other Storer Broadcasting stations once a month.

Learned Early Lessons

Though she hadnt consciously prepared for a life in broadcasting, Clayton was no stranger to the public eye. Xernona and her twin sister, Xenobia, were used to attention. Their Baptist minister father frequently pointed out, however, that being a twinor having good hair or light skin or any other superficial qualitywas no personal achievement for which they could take credit. In her autobiography, Ive Been Marching All the Time, Clayton recalled her father saying: You didnt choose to be twins. You didnt choose the texture of your hair. Dont let people fool you; thats frivolous stuff.

Accepting responsibility, though, was a recognizable achievement, and Clayton remembered acquiring that attribute the hard way. Invited by her father to play piano in church when she was 12 years old, Clayton happily worked with the choir members during their midweek practices. But when Sunday came, the young pianist forgot and opted instead to go with friends on an out-of-town trip. Her father was waiting when she returned.

Then came the lecture, Clayton recollected in her book. It was nice that I had fun, [my father] said, but I had not shown up at church to play the piano. Im going to ask you to consider something, he said. Imagine a scale. On one side you have twenty-six members of your church choir. Consider the balance here. These members of the choir were expecting you to show up. They had to get ready to show up themselves, and they had families, so you multiply that twenty-six by two, their spouses, and then say most of them had children and they had to get their children ready early in order to come to the choir on time. Then Daddy threw in the congregation which had been counting on me, and he threw in himself, the pastor, and when he got through he had, oh, a cast of thousands. Clayton proclaimed: It was a lasting lecture, obviously one Ive never forgotten. To this day I am extremely punctual and reliable.

Clayton later went to Tennessee State University, preparing to teach, and then received a scholarship for

At a Glance

Born on August 30, 1930, in Muskogee, OK; daughter of James M, (a Baptist minister) and Lillie (Elliott) Brewster; married Ed Clayton (a journalist), 1957 (died, 1966); married Paul L. Brady (a federal administrative judge), 1974; stepchildren: Laura Brady, Paul L. Brady, Jr. Education: Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University (now Tennessee State University), BA (with honors), 1952; graduate study at University of Chicago.

Career: Urban League, Chicago, IL, undercover agent, 1952; teacher in Chicago during the 1950s; volunteer for school dropout program in Los Angeles, CA, early 1960s; organized Southern Christian Leadership Conference fund-raising events, beginning in 1963; columnist, Atlanta Voice, during the mid-1960s; WAGA-TV, Atlanta, GA, host of Themes and Variations (renamed The Xernona Clayton Show, 1969), 1968-75; Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS), Atlanta, GA, producer of documentaries, 1979, host of weekly public affairs show Open Up, 1981, coordinator of minority affairs, early 1980s, director and vice-president of public affairs, mid-1980s, and assistant corporate vice-president for urban affairs, 1988,

Memberships: National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, National Association of Media Women (president, c. 1982-90), National Association of Press Women, Urban League (member of board of directors).

Awards: Award for excellence in television programming, Los Angeles chapter of Negro Business and Professional Women, 1970; Emmy Award, 1987, for documentary on juvenile justice; Media Woman of the Year, 1989; BlackVoice.com, recognized as one of the ten top black women, 2002.

Addresses: Office Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., One CNN Center, Box 105366, Atlanta, GA 30348-5366.

graduate work at the University of Chicago. In those days of racial segregation, close-knit families depended on a network of connections to provide safe places to stay when away from home. Xernona and her twin sister, therefore, were housed with Urban League contacts upon arriving in Chicago.

A great source of employment for black people, the Urban League offered jobs to the two college-educated women working on a project then in progressinvestigating and uncovering job discrimination. Both sisters agreed to participate until school resumed and were eventually offered jobs at the same company they had probeda liquor distribution firm that had not until then hired any black employees. Breaking down the barriers of discrimination began to be a common practice for Clayton. In 1966 Clayton organized the Doctors Committee for Implementation project, in which Atlantas black doctors came together to push for desegregation. The project succeeded in desegregating all of Atlantas hospitals.

Whenever she encountered obstacles of any kind, Clayton used a gentle form of confrontation that not only became her hallmark, but has made her a powerful facilitator. Clayton summed up her method in her autobiography, explaining that Ralph McGill, publisher of the Atlanta Constitution, often asked her to attend meetings in his place if he was unavailable. McGill liked my style in pricking the conscience of white Southerners. He explained that I did it in a way that was a little embarrassing but at the same time gentle. I have always felt that you dont have to be confrontational, even though I know confrontation can sometimes produce good results. But there are different styles for approaching a problem, and mine has always been, lets reason together. It was very flattering to me, of course, that he felt that my way of pricking the white conscience had some impact. As an Essence correspondent pointed out, McGill recognized Claytons talents and experience in civil rights and race relations and used his influence to land Clayton a television show on the CBS affiliate WAGA-TV, which was interested in breaking the color barrier and was aware that Clayton had wide acceptance in both the black and white communities.

Experienced Achievements in Activism

Claytons experience has been diverse, but a common theme since her Urban League experience has been political and social activism. While living in Los Angeles, California, Clayton responded to former U.S. President John F. Kennedys plea for volunteers to keep children from dropping out of school. She and her husband moved to Atlanta when civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed a need for their help, and consequently, Clayton worked closely with the Kings on civil rights. She knew the ropes and helped others learn how to work the system. Clayton told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), you can get more done if you start at the top. But there is no aspect of any job she undertakes that is too lowly for Clayton to do herself, including serving the coffee.

Claytons achievements are immense. As Tom Perew wryly noted in a Black Elegance article: There are resumes and there are RESUMES. Xernona Clayton has the kind spelled in caps. He noted that although resolutely optimistic when viewing the large picture, Clayton confessed to occasional breaks in faith: It seems like every time I get comfortable in my level of optimism, something comes along to shatter it. Perew pointed out that such an admission may be surprising when one is reminded that this is the same woman whom an ex-Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan credited as having influenced his change in heart when he denounced the organization in 1968.

Was a Television Programming Pioneer

Clayton had enough clout at TBS to be creative with corporate resources, and she engineered many significant accomplishments. She told CBB that TBS was the first major corporation to push black history when, in the early 1980s, it produced a one-hour documentary that aired during prime time. TBS then began dramatizing and magnifying the achievement of black Americans with our very popular Moments in History minutes. These were patterned after the Bicentennial Minutes and featured celebritieswho all volunteered their timedescribing the achievements of black figures from history. Aired three times a day during February, Black History Month, the Moments in History were initially broadcast on WTBS and Cable News Network (CNN), but eventually went out to the other 212 domestic broadcast outlets and finally to the international market as well, bringing much exposure to the subject.

Another annual activity Clayton organizedan award breakfast held at the Omni Hotel for students scoring at least 1,000 on their college entrance examsdemonstrated TBSs support of education. The event is so popular that other corporations have come forward to get involved, and Clayton indicated that TBS welcomes the additional participation. The students are thrilled that they are getting some recognition, and they also love being taken to see the Atlanta Braves [baseball team] play, she mused in an interview with CBB. In addition, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists sponsors the Xernona Clayton Scholarship Fund, which awards up to $10,000 annually to Atlanta-based college students. To foster greater recognition of people who have succeeded against great odds and gone on to help their communities, Clayton devised the Trumpet Awards in 1993. The annual celebration honors African-American achievement in arts, science, and politics.

In 1997, Clayton semi-retired from Turner Broadcasting Systems. She told Jet that I am positioning myself in the best possible work world. Calling her retirement a professional transition, Clayton said, because of my good health and high level of energy. I want to continue to do something. She left her duties as corporate vice president, but would continue to produce some projects, especially the annual Trumpet Awards ceremony.

Asked what advice she has for young people, Clayton told CBB: Young people just starting out often ask me what they can do to hasten their climb up the ladder of achievement, and I remind them that when you look at the pool of people out there, you can arrive at some conclusions. We have a norm of human behavior, a way of describing what average is. But there is nothing special about being average. Therefore, if you want to be singled out, you have to exceed the norm, you have to try to do the extraordinary, you have to strive to be a step above. Clayton continues to follow her own advice, to the benefit of those around her.

Selected writings

(With Hal Gulliver) Ive Been Marching All the Time: An Autobiography, Longstreet Press, 1991.

Sources

Books

Clayton, Xernona, with Hal Gulliver, Ive Been Marching All the Time: An Autobiography, Longstreet Press, 1991.

Periodicals

Atlanta Constitution, August 20, 1991.

Atlanta Journal, August 18, 1991.

Black Elegance, February/March 1992.

Essence, March 1987.

Jet, December 2, 1985; May 18, 1987; November 24, 1997; March 15, 2004.

Library Journal, October 1, 1991.

On-line

The Trumpet Awards, CNN, http://cnnstudentnews.cnn.com/2002/fyi/news/02/20/trumpet/ht.index.html (June 1, 2004).

Trumpet Awards, www.trumpetawards.com (May 31, 2004).

Other

CBB spoke with Xernona Clayton by phone at her office in Atlanta, GA, on March 30, 1992.

Tom and Sara Pendergast

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"Clayton, Xernona 1930–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Clayton, Xernona 1930–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/clayton-xernona-1930-0

Clayton, Xernona 1930–

Xernona Clayton 1930

Broadcasting executive

At a Glance

Recognized for Civil Rights Achievement

Originated the Black History Minute at TBS

Selected writings

Sources

Assistant corporate vice-president of urban affairs at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS) in Atlanta, Georgia, Xernona Clayton is the originator of the extremely popular Moments in History, one-minute broadcasts on black Americans that are televised daily during Black History Month.

Clayton has been on both sides of the camera. She was the first black woman in the South to host a regularly scheduled prime-time television talk show. Premiering in 1968 on WAGA-TV in Atlanta as Themes and Variations, the program was well received in both black and white communities. Featuring such celebrities as singers Lena Horne, Mahalia Jackson, and Harry Belafonte as well as more controversial figures, the program was renamed The Xemona Clayton Show on its first anniversary, reflecting the popularity of its host. Six months later the show went into syndication with a one-hour version aired on other Storer Broadcasting stations once a month.

Though she hadnt consciously prepared for a life in broadcasting, Clayton was no stranger to the public eye. Xernona and her twin sister, Xenobia, were used to attention. Their Baptist minister father frequently pointed out, however, that being a twinor having good hair or light skin or any other superficial qualitywas no personal achievement for which they could take credit. In her autobiography, Ive Been Marching All the Time, Clayton recalled her father saying: You didnt choose to be twins. You didnt choose the texture of your hair. Dont let people fool you; thats frivolous stuff.

Accepting responsibility, though, was a recognizable achievement, and Clayton remembered acquiring that attribute the hard way. Invited by her father to play piano in church when she was 12 years old, Clayton happily worked with the choir members during their midweek practices. But when Sunday came, the young pianist forgot and opted instead to go with friends on an out-of-town trip. Her father was waiting when she returned.

Then came the lecture, Clayton recollected in her book. It was nice that I had fun, [my father] said, but I had not shown up at church to play the piano. Im going to ask you to consider something, he said. Imagine a scale. On one side you have twenty-six members of your church choir. Consider the balance here. These members of the choir were expecting you to show up. They had to get ready to

At a Glance

Given name is pronounced zer-no-na; born August 30, 1930, in Muskogee, OK; daughter of James M. (a Baptist minister) and Lillie (Elliott) Brewster; married Ed Clayton (a journalist), 1957 (died, 1966); married Paul L. Brady (a federal administrative judge), 1974; stepchildren: Laura Brady, Paul L. Brady, Jr. Education: Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University (now Tennessee State University), B.A. (with honors), 1952; graduate study at University of Chicago.

Urban League, Chicago, IL, undercover agent, 1952; teacher in Chicago during the 1950s; volunteer for school dropout program in Los Angeles, CA, early 1960s; organized Southern Christian Leadership Conference fund-raising events, beginning in 1963; columnist, Atlanta Voice, during the mid-1960s; WAGA-TV, Atlanta, GA, host of Themes and Variations (renamed The Xernona Clayton Show, 1969), 1968-75; Turner Broadcasting System, inc. (TBS), Atlanta, GA, producer of documentaries, 1979, host of weekly public affairs show Open Up, 1981, coordinator of minority affairs, early 1980s, director and vice-president of public affairs, mid-1980s, and assistant corporate vice-president for urban affairs, 1988.

Awards: Award for excellence in television programming, Los Angeles chapter of Negro Business and Professional Women, 1970; Emmy Award, 1987, for documentary on juvenile justice; named a Media Woman of the Year, 1989.

Member: National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, National Association of Media Women (president, c. 1982-90), National Association of Press Women, Urban League (member of board of directors).

Addresses: Office Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., One CNN Center, Box 105366, Atlanta, GA 30348-5366.

show up themselves, and they had families, so you multiply that twenty-six by two, their spouses, and then say most of them had children and they had to get their children ready early in order to come to the choir on time. Then Daddy threw in the congregation which had been counting on me, and he threw in himself, the pastor, and when he got through he had, oh, a cast of thousands. Clayton proclaimed: It was a lasting lecture, obviously one Ive never forgotten. To this day I am extremely punctual and reliable.

Clayton later went to Tennessee State University, preparing to teach, and then received a scholarship for graduate work at the University of Chicago. In those days of racial segregation, close-knit families depended on a network of connections to provide safe places to stay when away from home. Xernona and her twin sister, therefore, were housed with Urban League contacts upon arriving in Chicago.

A great source of employment for black people, the Urban League offered jobs to the two college-educated women working on a project then in progressinvestigating and uncovering job discrimination. Both sisters agreed to participate until school resumed and were eventually offered jobs at the same company they had probeda liquor distribution firm that had not until then hired any black employees. Breaking down the barriers of discrimination began to be a common practice for Clayton.

Recognized for Civil Rights Achievement

Whenever she encountered obstacles of any kind, Clayton used a gentle form of confrontation that not only became her hallmark, but has made her a powerful facilitator. Clayton summed up her method in her autobiography, explaining that Ralph McGill, publisher of the Atlanta Constitution, often asked her to attend meetings in his place if he was unavailable. McGill liked my style in pricking the conscience of white Southerners. He explained that I did it in a way that was a little embarrassing but at the same time gentle. I have always felt that you dont have to be confrontational, even though I know confrontation can sometimes produce good results. But there are different styles for approaching a problem, and mine has always been, lets reason together. It was very flattering to me, of course, that he felt that my way of pricking the white conscience had some impact. As an Essence correspondent pointed out, McGill recognized Claytons talents and experience in civil rights and race relations and used his influence to land Clayton a television show on the CBS affiliate WAGA-TV, which was interested in breaking the color barrier and was aware that Clayton had wide acceptance in both the Black and white communities.

Claytons experience has been diverse, but a common theme since her Urban League experience has been political and social activism. While living in Los Angeles, California, Clayton responded to former U.S. President John F. Kennedys plea for volunteers to keep children from dropping out of school. She and her husband moved to Atlanta when civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed a need for their help, and consequently, Clayton worked closely with the Kings on civil rights. She knew the ropes and helped others learn how to work the system. Clayton told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), you can get more done if you start at the top. But there is no aspect of any job she undertakes that is too lowly for Clayton to do herself, including serving the coffee.

Claytons achievements are immense. As Tom Perew wryly noted in a Black Elegance article: There are resumes and there are RESUMES. Xernona Clayton has the kind spelled in caps. He noted that although resolutely optimistic when viewing the large picture, Clayton confessed to occasional breaks in faith: It seems like every time I get comfortable in my level of optimism, something comes along to shatter it. Perew pointed out that such an admission may be surprising when one is reminded that this is the same woman whom an ex-Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan credited as having influenced his change in heart when he denounced the organization in 1968.

Originated the Black History Minute at TBS

Clayton has enough clout at TBS to be creative with corporate resources, and she has engineered many significant accomplishments. She told CBB that TBS was the first major corporation to push black history when, in the early 1980s, it produced a one-hour documentary that aired during prime time. TBS then began dramatizing and magnifying the achievement of black Americans with our very popular Moments in History minutes. These were patterned after the Bicentennial Minutes and featured celebritieswho all volunteered their timedescribing the achievements of black figures from history. Aired three times a day during February, Black History Month, the Moments in History were initially broadcast on WTBS and Cable News Network (CNN), but eventually went out to the other 212 domestic broadcast outlets and finally to the international market as well, bringing much exposure to the subject.

Another annual activity Clayton organizedan award breakfast held at the Omni Hotel for students scoring at least 1,000 on their college entrance examsdemonstrated TBSs support of education. The event is so popular that other corporations have come forward to get involved, and Clayton indicated that TBS welcomes the additional participation. The students are thrilled that they are getting some recognition, and they also love being taken to see the Atlanta Braves [baseball team] play, she mused in an interview with CBB.

Asked what advice she has for young people, Clayton told CBB: Young people, just starting out often ask me what they can do to hasten their climb up the ladder of achievement, and I remind them that when you look at the pool of people out there, you can arrive at some conclusions. We have a norm of human behavior, a way of describing what average is. But there is nothing special about being average. Therefore, if you want to be singled out, you have to exceed the norm, you have to try to do the extraordinary, you have to strive to be a step above.

Selected writings

(With Hal Gulliver) Ive Been Marching All the Time: An Autobiography, Longstreet Press, 1991.

Sources

Books

Clayton, Xernona, with Hal Gulliver, Ive Been Marching All the Time: An Autobiography, Longstreet Press, 1991.

Periodicals

Atlanta Constitution, August 20, 1991.

Atlanta Journal, August 18, 1991.

Black Elegance, February/March 1992.

Essence, March 1987.

Jet, December 2, 1985; May 18, 1987.

Library Journal, October 1, 1991.

CBB spoke with Xernona Clayton by phone at her office in Atlanta, GA, on March 30, 1992.

Fran Locher Freiman

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Clayton, Xernona 1930–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Clayton, Xernona 1930–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/clayton-xernona-1930

"Clayton, Xernona 1930–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/clayton-xernona-1930