Bradenton to Trumpet Civil Rights Icon

Todays News


A civil rights icon who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. will share stories from moments in history with a Bradenton audience a week from today. 

Dr. Xernona Clayton, a giant in activism and broadcasting, will be in town for a meet-and-greet, the screening of the biographical documentary A Life to Remember and a book signing. Manatee County Commissioner Charles Smith says it's a chance for the community to get close to a figure at the center of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. Smith met Clayton several years ago through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and says he was immediately amazed by Clayton’s story. “She knew the actors who have passed and left here, and can account verbatim on conversations she had with them,” Smith says. “If you get the chance to talk to this woman, hear what she says—your body runs over with chills.”

The 87-year-old Clayton for a time was the special assistant to King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and she launched efforts to desegregate hospitals in Atlanta. She helped the family with certain funeral preparations after the famed civil rights leader’s assassination in 1968. She also famously worked with Klu Klux Klan Grand Dragon Calvin Craig when both served on a Model Cities program, and Craig would cite Clayton’s influence when he denounced the hate group in 1968. Clayton also enjoyed success in media, becoming the first black broadcaster to host a television show in the South. In the late 1970s, she joined Turner Broadcasting, where she rose to Corporate Vice President of Urban Affairs and served as a CNN executive for 31 years.

In 1993, she created the Trumpet Awards, which honor the major achievements of African Americans. It’s that awards event that led to Manatee County officials reaching out to Clayton. Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says that the county invited Clayton to town about a year ago in hopes of luring the awards to this region. After meeting Clayton, Falcione knew he wanted to bring her back for a community event. Plans were made for an event next Thursday at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. “At some point we can bring her back and get her in front of students and organizations to express the importance of unifying different races and cultures, and what that can bring to a community like ours,” Falcione says.

Both Smith and Falcione would still love someday to bring the Trumpet Awards to Manatee, and the event next week offers the chance to further showcase the region to Clayton.

The public event on Thursday opens at 6pm and will include a screening, with a meet-and-greet and a book signing scheduled at 7:30pm. Tickets can be reserved through the Manatee Players.

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