Xernona Clayton, 87, worked for Martin Luther King Jr., receives a Lifetime Achievement Celebration in Bradenton
BRADENTON — When civil rights pioneer Xernona Clayton came to town on Thursday, Manatee County got a living history lesson.
“She talks about history like the people are sitting right there,” said Charles Smith, a Manatee County commissioner. “Not second- or third-hand information. She’s 87 years old. She’s a living legend.”
Clayton is petite — maybe 5 feet tall — but she arrived with a black gown, a brilliant smile and no small amount of charisma.
“When she comes into a room, she commands a room,” said Elliot Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Oh, my gosh; she’s one of the most dynamic people I’ve ever met in my life.”
At the Manatee County Performing Arts Center, Clayton talked about working with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She described meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson to help convince him to desegregate hospitals in Atlanta and across the country.
“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” she said.
In Atlanta, Clayton was one of the first black people in the South to host a prime-time television program. She did interviews for “The Xernona Clayton Show.” This was 40 years before people ever heard of Oprah Winfrey.
“People forget that,” Clayton said with a grin. “She kind of took over that whole thing.”
‘Life to Remember’