By KENYA KING (www.atlantadailyworld.com)
Just 10 days after her 81st birthday, Xernona Clayton received a gift of a lifetime, becoming the first African- American woman to have a downtown Atlanta street named after her, and a park plaza dedicated in her name.
Mayor Kasim Reed and the City of Atlanta honored Clayton, a civil rights and broadcasting trailblazer, on Tuesday, Sept. 20, with dozens of civil leaders, supporters and well-wishers looking on.
Clayton stood with tears in her eyes as the street sign was unveiled. “I feel so special for this moment,” said Clayton. “I consider this another blessing, something I didn’t seek. So that makes the honor twice as good.” Baker Street is now also called Honorary Xernona Clayton Way.
In addition to the street naming, the city of Atlanta unveiled a plaque in Hardy Ivy Park, naming the space Xernona Clayton Plaza.
After many months of uncertainty of whether the street naming would come to fruition due to some who opposed recognizing individuals with street names, a resolution was finally reached.
“I felt very badly about it because I prefer not to be involved in controversy and it was not an honor I was seeking, and it kind of went down in defeat. They put it on hold and it stayed on hold. Well, what I didn’t know was that the council members were looking for an alternate plan. And there’s a lesson to me in this blessing. I call this a blessing, but there’s a lesson. Cone Street is about three or four blocks long. The alternate choice was Baker Street, which is twice as long. To me the lesson in this wonderful blessing is – I think there is a biblical reference to it that says, ‘fret not over that which you lose, but glory in that which you gain.’ And so I was fretting over what I was considering a loss, but look at what I gained — a longer street and a park,” said Clayton.
Clayton said that she’s read that Hardy Ivy, who is credited as Atlanta’s first settler, designated Baker Street as the “heart of Atlanta,” that the city would grow from there.
In Hardy Ivy Park, where her plaza is named, Clayton plans to utilize the space to recognize others who have made contributions to the community. “I am going to create a spot of honor for other people. It’s a lovely area there…I can put lighted bricks [there] and talk about the nights of lights – people who are helping to illuminate and augment the glory of our city, people who are helping to do something wonderful for others. I don’t know how to accept this because I’m overjoyed with the opportunity to take what has been given to me and return it to bigger and better opportunities,” said Clayton.
Clayton, who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and traveled with Mrs. King during her concert tours, said that Dr. King would be pleased with the street renaming.
“Oh, I think he would feel as proud of the event as I am because he also would not seek honor for himself. …