Xernona Clayton: the civil rights legend who befriended a KKK leader – and changed his mind

Xernona Clayton: the civil rights legend who befriended a KKK leader – and changed his mind

The Guardian

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An extraordinary activist, she fought for integrated hospitals, helped organise the March on Washington and became the first Black TV presenter in the south

The words of Xernona Clayton’s friend and mentor Martin Luther King Jr still ring in her ears, she says, not least his dictum that “if you can change a man’s heart, you can regulate his behaviour”.

One incident illustrates how successful this philosophy can be. It was 1968 and Clayton was in Atlanta, Georgia, leading the Model Cities Program, a federal initiative to help reduce urban poverty. Also on the programme was a man named Calvin Craig, who was the Georgia “grand dragon” of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). At this time, the KKK was still a prominent entity, openly engaged in cross-burnings, racist violence and intimidation, such as protesting outside white-owned restaurants in their robes to discourage Black people from entering.

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