International Women’s Day was off to a celebratory start in Atlanta Wednesday, March 8. On a warm and sunny morning the unveiling of Civil Rights leader and broadcasting legend Xernona Clayton’s statue brought dozens of people downtown.
Clayton’s numerous accomplishments span far and wide, transcending decades of growth in Atlanta. The masters of ceremonies for the morning were WSB-TV news anchors, Fred Blankenship and Karen Greer. The enthusiasm and excitement pulsating from the crowd could be heard from blocks away as the crowd surrounding the statue continued to grow.
“That statue right there is of Xernona Clayton, the first black woman to have a television show in the south, she is the standard. She personifies excellence, and reminds us of how good we can be,” Blankenship told The Atlanta Voice.
In attendance were Clayton’s close friends and central figures in her life. Several of these figures included Former Republican Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, National President/C.E.O of the Southern Leadership Conference Charles Steele Jr, and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens.
Clayton’s immediate impact on many of her guests was clear. A common theme throughout the ceremony was the running gag of each presenter being one of many “boyfriends” that Clayton had acquired. Each person who took to the stage not only had personal commentary of how Clayton’s trailblazing led them to where they are today either in a professional or personal capacity, but of her role in the civil rights movement as well.
All of this spoke to the very nature of Clayton’s ethos throughout her career and her fearlessness and tenacity, while always staying ahead of the curve.
A great emphasis was put on celebrating Clayton now, while she is still alive to feel those warm sentiments.
This is not the first time Clayton has been immortalized in the city. In 2011, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, along with Cagle, honored Clayton with Xernona Clayton Way, located at the intersection of Baker and Peachtree streets. That made Clayton the first African American woman to have had a street in downtown Atlanta named after her.
The statue is purposefully located across the street from the Hyatt, on 265 Peachtree Street, or as Clayton referred to it as “The hotel of hope”. During the Civil Rights Movement Clayton and many other prominent members of the movement would hold their strategy meetings. The hotel was also the last place Clayton would see the late Civil Rights icon and close friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. alive.
“This statue documents history, but women’s history. It documents progression, it documents courage and tenacity, Clayton did great work, and this is her reward,” Poet Hank Stewart told The Atlanta Voice. Stewart was part of the committee that helped make the statue for Clayton possible.
A historic moment that couldn’t come fast enough, Clayton’s place in not only Civil Rights history but in the history of Atlanta has now been etched in stone.