By Janice Malone
It’s been 100 years and hundreds of thousands of graduates, with millions of memories from each and every student that has graced the halls, playing fields and class rooms of one of America’s oldest institutions of higher learning—Tennessee State University
This year the world-famous Historical Black Colleges Universities (HBCU) is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Tennessee Tribune entertainment department salutes the university by speaking to three of its notable graduates who have made an indelible mark in the entertainment industry. Please pick up a copy of this week’s print edition to read more.
Xernona Clayton Brady is a civil rights leader, broadcasting executive, and founder of The Trumpet Awards & Foundation
Xernon Clayton Brady (1952 TSU graduate with honors) – Xernona Clayton is the Founder, President and CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc. and Creator and Executive Producer of the Foundation’s Trumpet Awards. The Trumpet Awards is a prestigious event highlighting African-American accomplishments and contributions. Initiated in 1993 by Turner Broadcasting, the Trumpet Awards has been televised annually and distributed internationally to over 185 countries around the world. Ms. Clayton began her television career in 1967 and became the South’s first Black person to have her own television show. The Xernona Clayton show was a regular feature on WAGA-TV, CBS affiliate in Atlanta. Ms. Clayton was employed at Turner Broadcasting for nearly 30 years where she served as a corporate executive. She moved to Atlanta in 1965 where she accepted a position with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and worked closely with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ms. Clayton also traveled extensively with Mrs. Coretta Scott King on her nationwide concert tours. Her persistent fight against the dragons of prejudice and bigotry was never more apparent than in 1968, when the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan denounced the Klan and credited Xernona’s influence with his change. Ms. Clayton’s dedication to the community is reflected in the many hours she spends promoting human relations through bi-racial groups devoted to improving racial understanding.
TRIBUNE: Ms. Clayton it’s such an honor to speak with you again.
MS. CLAYTON: “I would first like to say The Tennessee Tribune is one of the best newspapers in the country! And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” (She laughs)
TRIBUNE: I know you must have many, but what are some of your fondest memories of being a TSU student?
MS. CLAYTON: “I have so many great memories. But one of my fondest is how welcome I felt when I first arrived at the campus as a young student from the small town of Muskogee, OK. Back then, as a high school student, I looked forward to attending college but I didn’t really know what to expect. So it was a little frightening for me in my spirit because I was coming to unknown territory plus, meeting a lot of strangers for the first time. But when my sister and I arrived at the TSU campus those fears left. We were just so welcomed. It was such a friendly environment. When we arrived at the freshmen dorm the house-mother was so warm and inviting. She made us feel like we were at home and remember, this was the first time we had ever been away from home.”
TRIBUNE: I read that your college major was music with a minor in education. Were you interested in becoming a professional musician at the time?
MS. CLAYTON: “I wanted to do it all. I had such a love for music. I had good instruction and instructors at TSU—that’s another one of my fond memories at the school. We worked with instructors who really cared about our levels of education. They weren’t teaching us just to get a paycheck. They made sure we received a quality learning foundation for our future. I also got an education in race relations. I recall a fellow student who came to history class one day wearing a bandana on her head. This was back in the late 1940’s, when Civil Rights were at its peak. Our instructor was very strong when he told her, ‘Take that rag off of your head! You’re a black girl in America and looking like Aunt Jemima will not get you the kind of results you want from the public.’ At first I thought it was a bit of a crash lesson. But he later explained that as Black people we have to look our best plus, think and act our best in order to move forward. He was teaching us that racism was a reality once we leave the protective covering of college life. And I saw a lot of that later in life.”
TRIBUNE: Since you were a music major, did you participate in the TSU band?
MS. CLAYTON: “Yes, I participated in almost everything. I was in the band; the drama classes; participated in the concert series and I was a majorette. I also had even more broad exposure at TSU because the school is surrounded by so many other fine schools in the city of Nashville. Dave Faulkner (former Dean of Men) over at Fisk University came up with the idea of having an intra-mural relationship for students among some of the schools, so they could have an interactive relationship with each other. I ended up being the first chairman for that student group. I later landed on the front page of the former Nashville Banner newspaper. That gave me a lot of notoriety in a positive way, for a black person to be on their front page. That accomplishment, and being a part of this intra-mural organization, opened up opportunities for me among my fellow TSU students, and also with students at other schools across the city.”
TRIBUNE: The Trumpet Awards through the generosity of its co-sponsors, has generated nearly $4 million to charitable and educational causes. I’m sure many of those scholarship recipients have been TSU students over the years.
MS. CLAYTON: “There have indeed been many TSU students. When I first started the scholarship program I really didn’t know how all of this student aid worked. But the director of Student Aid at TSU at the time helped us move in the right direction to get the scholarship program underway. I learned so much. They were so helpful, so my association with TSU helped me formulate my program too.”
TRIBUNE: Any final comments that you would like to say to the current TSU student body and faculty?
MS. CLAYTON: “Yes. First of all, the life you live on the campus never ends. I know that’s true because when I graduated from TSU I thought I’d never again see some of those students. I’ve traveled with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King. We traveled all over this country and out of it. Almost every place that I’ve been to there was someone living there from TSU who would say, ‘Can we help? What can we do?’ Mrs. King and I were once chatting and she said how so many people often said the name Martin Luther King was magical, and everyone wanted to get to know him. They would often tease me by saying that I knew people everywhere. Well, that was because my former TSU people live all over the world and they’re doing great things wherever they’re planted. As a graduate of the school I’ve continued to have those great relationships.”
For more information about The Trumpet Awards visit: www.trumpetfoundation.org