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Clayborne Carson

With Coretta Scott King at Stanford on November 6, 1986

Jun 16 2015


Clayborne Carson has devoted most of 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 Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor of History, (emeritus). In 1985 the late Coretta Scott King invited Dr. Carson to direct a long-term project to edit and publish the authoritative edition of her late husband's speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications, and unpublished writings. Under Carson’s direction, the King Papers Project has produced seven volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.In 2005 Carson founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute to endow and expand the educational outreach of the King Papers Project. Although he is completing his final year diirecting the King Institute, he will continue his educational activiteis as founding Director of the World House Project at Stanford's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. The WHP features online courses inspired by King's vision of a culturally diverse humanity learning to build a peaceful global community 

Born in Buffalo, New York, Dr. Carson spent his childhood years in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where his father worked as a security inspector at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Since moving to Los Angeles in 1964 to attend UCLA, he has resided in California. As an undergraduate, he participated in civil rights and antiwar protests, and many of his subsequent writings reflect these experiences by stressing the importance of grassroots organizing and nonviolent resistance to injustice 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); The Struggle for Freedom: A History of African Americans (2005, 2010, co-author); and a memoir, Martin's Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (2013). Carson also edited The Autoiograhy of Martin Luther King, Jr., compiled from King's autobiographical writings and published in more than a dozen languages. The audio version of The Autobiographywon a Grammy award in 2000.

In addition to his classroom teaching, Carson has also expanded understanding of African-American history beyond college classrooms. He served as senior advisor for the award-winning, public television series on the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize (1986, 1990). In addition, he has participated in the making of more than two dozen other documentaries, including Freedom on My Mind (1994), which was nominated for an Oscar in 1995, Blacks & Jews (1997), Citizen King (2004), Have You Heard from Johannesburg? (2010), a multipart documentary about the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa, Freedom Riders (2011), Black Panther: Vanguard of a Revolution (2015) and I Am MLK Jr. (2018). Carson's musical play, "Passages of Martin Luther King," was first performed by Stanford's drama department in 1993 and was subsequently performed in various places throughout the United States. The international premiere of "Passages" was produced in 2007 by the National Theatre of China. In 2012 the Palestinian National Theatre performed an Arabic vision of "Passages" in East Jerusalem and other Palestinian communities. In 2014, the documentary, Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine (2013), recounted Carson's effort to bring the play and King's nonviolent message to an Arabic-speaking audience. In addition to his years of teaching at Stanford, Dr. Carson has been a pioneer in the development of online courses and digital educational resources. He has been a visiting professor at  the University of California, Berkeley, American University, Emory University, Morehouse College, and L'école des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. He has lectured throughout the United States and in many other nations, including China, India, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Jamaica, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. 

Dr. Carson has been married for more than five decades to Susan Ann Carson, who until her retirement in 2008 was the managing editor of the King Papers Project. His son, Malcolm, graduated from Howard University and the University of California School of Law and is Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the Trust for Public Land in San Francisco. His daughter Temera graduated from San Jose State University with a master's degree in social work and is a social services program manager for the County of Santa Clara, California. His grand-daughter Dalila Adofo is Project Coordinator of San Francisco's Southeast Community Council for Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates.


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Clayborne Carson, King Institute