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Rev. Martin Luther Jr. King honored in Albany (VIDEOS/PHOTO GALLERY)

King Day Celebration draws crowds to honor Dr. King

Xernona Clayton, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1965 until his death, speaks about the civil rights era at the King Day 2014 celebration at the Albany Civic Center on Jan. 20, 2014. Clayton, whose late husband, Ed Clayton, was a speechwriter for King, published her autobiography, "I've Been Marching All the Time," in 1991. She was the first African-American woman to have her own television show in Atlanta and then began a 30-year career with Turner Broadcasting, becoming one of the company's highest-ranking female employees. She is founder/president/CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, which highlights accomplishments and contributions of African Americans.


Xernona Clayton, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1965 until his death, speaks about the civil rights era at the King Day 2014 celebration at the Albany Civic Center on Jan. 20, 2014. Clayton, whose late husband, Ed Clayton, was a speechwriter for King, published her autobiography, "I've Been Marching All the Time," in 1991. She was the first African-American woman to have her own television show in Atlanta and then began a 30-year career with Turner Broadcasting, becoming one of the company's highest-ranking female employees. She is founder/president/CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, which highlights accomplishments and contributions of African Americans.


Xernona Clayton, who was a close associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, speaks at the 2014 King Day celebration in Albany on Monday. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)

Xernona Clayton, who was a close associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, speaks at the 2014 King Day celebration in Albany on Monday. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)

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Xernona Clayton speaks at King Day 2014

Xernona Clayton, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1965 until his death, speaks about the civil rights era at the King Day 2014 celebration at the Albany Civic Center on Jan. 20, 2014. Clayton, whose late husband, Ed Clayton, was a speechwriter for King, published her autobiography, "I've Been Marching All the Time," in 1991. She was the first African-American woman to have her own television show in Atlanta and then began a 30-year career with Turner Broadcasting, becoming one of the company's highest-ranking female employees. She is founder/president/CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, which highlights accomplishments and contributions of African Americans.

Xernona Clayton, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1965 until his death, speaks about the civil rights era at the King Day 2014 celebration at the Albany Civic Center on Jan. 20, 2014. Clayton, whose late husband, Ed Clayton, was a speechwriter for King, published her autobiography, "I've Been Marching All the Time," in 1991. She was the first African-American woman to have her own television show in Atlanta and then began a 30-year career with Turner Broadcasting, becoming one of the company's highest-ranking female employees. She is founder/president/CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, which highlights accomplishments and contributions of African Americans.

ALBANY — Albany citizens celebrated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday sharing remembrances from one of King’s close friends at this year’s King Day Celebration.

Xernona Clayton, who served as the keynote speaker for the night, captivated the audience as she recounted stories that showed the strength of King’s character and the spirit of his message.

Clayton began her speech by telling the audience how pleased she was to be able to talk about King and that she hoped to let people know some truths about him and his mission in life.

“I love talking about about a man who gave so much to all us,” Clayton began. “Here we are 50 years later remembering his birthday and his life. That says a lot for all of us.”

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Xernona Clayton speaks at King day 2014 - Part 2

Xernona Clayton, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1965 until his death, speaks about the civil rights era at the King Day 2014 celebration at the Albany Civic Center on Jan. 20, 2014. Clayton, whose late husband, Ed Clayton, was a speechwriter for King, published her autobiography, "I've Been Marching All the Time," in 1991. She was the first African-American woman to have her own television show in Atlanta and then began a 30-year career with Turner Broadcasting, becoming one of the company's highest-ranking female employees. She is founder/president/CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, which highlights accomplishments and contributions of African Americans.

Xernona Clayton, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1965 until his death, speaks about the civil rights era at the King Day 2014 celebration at the Albany Civic Center on Jan. 20, 2014. Clayton, whose late husband, Ed Clayton, was a speechwriter for King, published her autobiography, "I've Been Marching All the Time," in 1991. She was the first African-American woman to have her own television show in Atlanta and then began a 30-year career with Turner Broadcasting, becoming one of the company's highest-ranking female employees. She is founder/president/CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, which highlights accomplishments and contributions of African Americans.

Clayton continued by sharing a couple of stories about King’s message of non-violence and how she witnessed firsthand his resolve and practice of that principal. Clayton first shared a story about a man spitting in King’s face on an airplane upon learning who he was and how King simply shrugged it off and gave Clayton some words of wisdom to diffuse her anger toward the aggressor.

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Albany State University professor Veronica Adams Cooper is one of two 2014 King Day Committee Dream Award recipients. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

“Dr. King was a man who practiced what he preached,” said Clayton. “Everybody doesn’t do that. He practiced non-violence because he believed it. I loved the way the man practiced non-violence.”

To illustrate her point Clayton told two stories about confrontations King had with hotel managers in the South who were angry that King and his supporters wanted to have conventions and meals featuring people of different races. One such altercation, Clayton recounted, included a well-dressed manager striking King and knocking him to the floor.

“I wish you could see the countenance on (King’s) face,” said Clayton. “He just got up, he brushed himself off and he said, ‘you have to remember that every time this ugliness exhibits itself, it confirms the fact that we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to change attitudes. We have to change people’s hearts; because unless you change a man’s heart you’re going to have trouble. But once you change his heart then you can change his behavior.’”

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Former Dougherty County District Attorney Kenneth B. Hodges III introduces the evening's speaker at the 2014 King Day Celebration. Hodges is now an Atlanta attorney. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

Clayton also talked about trying to continue King’s legacy of brotherly love and understanding and challenging the audience to do its part to impact society the way King did.

“We’re still asking the question, ‘are we there yet?’ The answer is no,” Clayton said. “Progress yes, but we’ve still got a long way to go. The moral of the story of Martin Luther King is we need to ask ourselves the question, ‘am I doing enough everyday to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and be kind to people, even if they don’t look like you?’ Just singing happy birthday is not enough. ‘What do you do to mimic and mirror his life?’

I’m always asking people, ‘what do you do that will make a difference?’ That’s what Dr. King did; he made a difference in our society. People always ask me, ‘when do you think we’ll get another Martin Luther King?’ And I say, ‘what about you?’ Each of us can do something. There’s enough work to be done.”

Acknowledging that there is still work to be done to build a better community, the King Day Committee also uses the King Celebration to honor those who are working to make a difference.

The committee presents three Dream Awards, to individuals who work toward the common good of the community through servant leadership and thus embody the spirit of the civil rights leader.

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17-year-old Jayda Robinson of Albany is this year’s recipient of the King Day Committee’s Youth Dream Award. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

This year the Student Dream Award went to Albanian Jayda Robinson, who at 17 is an volunteer, author and business owner.

The first of the two Dream Awards presented to adults went to Albany State University professor Veronica Adams Cooper, who was recognized for her extensive volunteer work throughout the community, including service with Strive2Thrive, the Dougherty High School Parent Advisory Council, the governing board for International Studies Elementary Charter school and the International Baccalaureate Committee for Dougherty Middle School and Dougherty High School.

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Lt. Terron Hayes of the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office is one of two 2014 King Day Committee Dream Award recipients. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

The second Dream Award was given to Lt. Terron Hayes of the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office. According to the King Day Committee Hayes was recognized for his contribution in the community through the implementation and oversight of programs designed to benefit the youth of the community. Hayes works extensively with juveniles across racial, ethnic and socio-economic lines to address problems that affect their decision-making.

In addition to the presentation of the Dream Awards and Clayton’s speech, those in attendance were also treated to singing by the Freedom Singers, an update on events at Albany’s Civil Rights Institute and a catered meal provided by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

A group of students from Albany’s International Studies Elementary Charter School was also on hand to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance in both English and Spanish.

In the end, however, the night belonged to Clayton whose stories made the audience both laugh and think. Her message was likely illustrated by a story she told about visiting with students throughout the country, telling them about King.

“I go to schools a lot and speak to schools and when you ask, ‘what’s Martin Luther King?’ they say, ‘he was a man who lived and died to free black people,’ Clayton shared. “That is not true. Dr. King lived, worked and died to free all people; because, he said, ‘until all people are free, none are free.’”