Clayborne Carson has devoted his professional life to the study of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movements King inspired. Since receiving his doctorate from UCLA in 1975, Dr. Carson has taught at Stanford University, where he is now Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor of history and Ronnie Lott Founding Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.
During his undergraduate years at UCLA, Dr. Carson participated in civil rights and antiwar protests, and many of his subsequent writings reflect his experiences by stressing the importance of grassroots political activity within the African-American freedom struggle. Carson's publications include In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (1981); Malcolm X: The FBI File(1991); African American Lives: The Struggle for Freedom (2005, co-author); and a memoir, Martin's Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (2013).
In 1985 the late Coretta Scott King invited Dr. Carson to direct a long-term project to edit and publish the papers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Under Carson’s direction, the King Papers Project has produced seven volumes of an ongoing comprehensive edition of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.,assembling King's most significant speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications, and unpublished writings. In 2005 Carson founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute to endow and expand the work of the King Papers Project.
Dr. Carson also served as senior advisor for the award-winning, public television series on the civil rights movement, "Eyes on the Prize." In addition, he has participated in the making of numerous other documentaries, including "Freedom on My Mind," which was nominated for an Oscar in 1995, "Citizen King" (2004), "Have You Heard from Johannesburg?" a multipart documentary about the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa, and "Black Panther: Vanguard of a Revolution" (2015). The audio version of Carson's edition of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. won a Grammy award in 2000.
Carson's musical play, "Passages of Martin Luther King," was first performed by Stanford's drama department in 1993. "Passages" was also produced by the National Theatre of China in 2007 and by the Palestian National Theatre in 2012. Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine,a documentary based on the latter production, was released in 2014.
Dr. Carson has lectured throughout the United States and in many other nations, including China, India, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Jamaica, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and France. He has appeared on many national radio and television shows, such as Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, Fresh Air, Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley, and Marketplace.