The civil rights leader and the daughter of KKK Grand Dragon Calvin Craig discuss their shared past
When Xernona Clayton moved to Atlanta in 1965, she accepted a position at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, working side by side with Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. In 1967 she became the first African American in the Southeast to have her own television program, The Xernona Clayton Show
, which aired on WAGA-TV (then the CBS affiliate in Atlanta). In the 1970s, Clayton joined Turner Broadcasting System, where she spent thirty years as a corporate executive. While at Turner, Clayton founded the Trumpet Awards, an annual event that recognizes accomplishments of African Americans in all walks of life.
But perhaps the most remarkable chapter in Xernona Clayton’s life was her influence on Calvin Craig, a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Craig was an Atlanta heavy-equipment operator who for most of the 1960s had been a strong advocate for racial segregation and a leader of Klan rallies and cross burnings.
Clayton and Craig got to know each other when they both became involved in the Model Cities program in 1967. They built an unusual relationship based on daily debates about their differing views on race and society. Surprising everyone, Craig resigned from the Klan in 1968, denouncing the organization and crediting Clayton for his conversion.
In May 2010, the phone rang in the Trumpet Foundation’s office. The caller was Gail Craig Mayes, the daughter of Calvin Craig. Mayes, who was then living in the Washington, D.C., area, told Clayton that she wanted to see her. They agreed to meet.
“I felt speechless, and that’s difficult for me, to be speechless,” said Clayton. “What was odd is that just two weeks prior to that, the thought of her just flashed in my mind for no particular reason. I wondered whatever happened to the [Craig] children.”
In February, Clayton and Mayes sat down with Atlanta magazine to share their personal story of racial reconciliation and what it was like to reconnect forty-three years after Mayes’s father resigned from the KKK.
Xernona Clayton (left) with Gail Mayes, February 2011; photograph by Neda Abghari