MLK Week to feature keynote by civil rights leader, broadcast pioneer

· 4 min read

MLK Week to feature keynote by civil rights leader, broadcast pioneer

MLK Statue with Crossed Arms

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s MLK Week celebration will feature a keynote address by Xernona Clayton, a civil rights leader and broadcast pioneer.

The university will honor the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a series of events Jan. 22-30. The week, which carries the theme “Compassionate Actions,” will highlight the importance of social and racial advocacy, education and engagement. The celebration will offer events for students, faculty, staff and the Lincoln community.


Clayton will speak during the MLK Commemorative Celebration from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Nebraska Union’s Centennial Room. Registration is required by Jan. 28 here. The 2024 Chancellor’s Fulfilling the Dream Awards will be presented during the commemoration.

Clayton is best known as the founder and CEO of the Trumpet Awards, an annual program televised by the TBS network and distributed internationally to more than 185 countries. The program features the accomplishments of African Americans in a variety of fields. She is also the driving force behind the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park in Atlanta.

Clayton worked undercover for the Chicago Urban League, investigating employment discrimination, before moving to Atlanta in 1965 to organize events for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She developed a deep friendship with Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King. In 1966, Clayton coordinated the activities of Atlanta’s Black physicians in the Doctors’ Committee for Implementation. The project helped force the desegregation of all hospital facilities in Atlanta.

As a journalist, Clayton wrote a column for the Atlanta Voice, and in 1967, she became the first Black person in the South to host a regularly scheduled prime-time television talk show. The program, initially called “Variations,” became “The Xernona Clayton Show.” It was broadcast on Atlanta CBS affiliate WAGA. When Calvin Craig, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, appeared on her program, Clayton began a dialogue with him that influenced him to resign from the Klan and renounce the organization. Clayton later hosted the public affairs program “Open Up” and produced documentaries for TBS. In the early 1980s, she became the first Black woman corporate executive at TBS when Ted Turner appointed her director and vice president of public affairs. She became the media giant’s assistant corporate vice president for urban affairs in 1988. In that role, she served as a liaison between Turner Broadcasting and community organizations.

“Ms. Clayton’s direct experience with the civil rights movement and as a trailblazing executive in TV broadcasting can help us all better understand the courage and perseverance it takes to pursue and sustain equality,” said Jennifer PeaksMease, assistant vice chancellor of inclusive leadership and learning at Nebraska. “In particular, her experience building compassionate connection, to the extent that she convinced a former Grand Dragon of the KKK to denounce the Klan, is something we can all take as inspiration.”

MLK Week also will include volunteer opportunities for the campus community throughout the week. For more information, click here.

A “Late Night Dish It Up: Divine Nine Edition” will be 6:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 23 in the Nebraska Union’s Regency Suite. The moderated panel discussion, hosted by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, will feature members from each Divine Nine organization talking about King’s affiliation with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the impact of the Divine Nine on past and present social justice movements nationally and in Nebraska. The event is open to the entire campus community.

A panel discussion, “Intersections: Disability, Access and Artistry,” featuring members of internationally acclaimed disability arts ensemble Kinetic Light, will be 4 to 5 p.m. Jan. 24 in the Lied Center Commons. The conversation will focus on the intersecting identities of disability, queerness and race. The ensemble will perform its latest show, “Descent,” at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Lied Center. Tickets are available here.

The annual MLK Banquet, featuring a keynote address by Peter Ferguson, is 6 p.m. Jan. 28 in the Nebraska Union’s Centennial Room. Ferguson is the coordinator of culture, inclusion and scholar development for Lincoln Public Schools and the MLK Youth Rally adviser. He is also a member of the university’s MLK Week Committee. The banquet is hosted by the Afrikan People’s Union.

For more information on MLK Week at Nebraska, click here or email

Recent News