Gift boosts vision for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute
By Vincent Ingram
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute in the School of Humanities and Sciences has received the largest gift in its history from alum Evan Spiegel, ’12, and his family.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers an address at Stanford Memorial Auditorium on April 14, 1967. (Image credit: Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service)
The gift will support the digitization of Dr. King’s writings, allowing the institute to offer them through a new, searchable online database that will be available to the public and to scholars worldwide. In addition, the gift provides significant endowed support that will position the King Institute for broader impact, enabling new programming in service of the institute’s mission to promote and preserve King’s legacy.
Since January 2022, the King Institute has been led by Lerone A. Martin, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor, faculty director of the King Institute, and associate professor of religious studies. Under Martin’s leadership, the institute is focused on promoting access to and understanding of Dr. King’s work, while providing a platform to apply Dr. King’s ideals to today’s societal issues.
In the summer of 2025, the university plans to relocate the institute to a renovated space in Building 370 in the Main Quad, in the heart of Stanford’s historic campus.
“Stanford is dedicated to making the King Institute a global destination for the study of the original works of Dr. King. This generous gift underscores the continued urgency of his writings and their relevance to contemporary society,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “The King Institute has the potential to play an even larger role in the Stanford community and in our national discourse. I am deeply grateful to Evan and his family for bolstering Stanford’s ability to further Dr. King’s legacy.”
Spiegel is the co-founder and CEO of Snap, Inc. He developed Snapchat as a project for one of his product design classes at Stanford.
“Dr. King’s vision for a better world and his teachings in love and faith transcend generations and inspire progress,” Spiegel said. “It is our hope that this gift makes the blessing of his life more accessible to more people and supports continued scholarship that brings us closer to the promised land that Dr. King so clearly saw and wanted for all of us.”
The King Institute grew out of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, which began in 1985 when Coretta Scott King selected Stanford historian Clayborne Carson to edit and publish the papers of her late husband. Carson founded the institute in 2005, serving as its longtime director and establishing it as an internationally renowned resource for scholars, students, and the public. Martin was appointed to the role by the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences following Carson’s retirement.
“I think of Martin Luther King Jr. as a conversation partner in our studies of history and in helping us think about the future,” Martin said. “Dr. King still has so much to contribute and teach us about public concerns today, and this generous gift will accelerate our work to share his legacy more broadly.”
A vision to advance Dr. King’s legacy
As a prominent leader of the American civil rights movement, Dr. King is best known for leading and advocating for nonviolent direct action in response to pervasive and pernicious disenfranchisement, violence, and racial discrimination experienced by Black citizens in the United States and abroad. As the struggle for racial justice continues, Dr. King’s wisdom can make valuable contributions to the critical conversations of our current era. The King Institute aims to bring the full breadth of Dr. King’s legacy into the public consciousness, highlighting his efforts to dismantle racism, poverty, and war – which he called “the evil triplets.” Stanford and Martin’s shared vision for the future of the King Institute is rooted in the King Papers Project, as well as new and robust research, public engagement and partnerships, and education. Together, these pillars amplify the institute’s impact as well as Dr. King’s legacy at Stanford and beyond.
Lerone A. Martin, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor and associate professor of religious studies, is faculty director of the King Institute. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)
The King Papers Project, under the direction of Tenisha Armstrong, is a large-scale, collaborative archival effort among Stanford, the King Center in Atlanta, and the King Estate. Upon its completion, the project will comprise a comprehensive, chronological, multivolume collection of King’s most significant correspondence, sermons, speeches, published writings, and unpublished manuscripts. Armstrong, who has worked at the King Institute for more than two decades, noted the transformative capacity of the gift. “The gift will accelerate our capacity to complete the 14-volume series,” Armstrong said.
Seven volumes have been published to date, providing scholars with essential primary research sources and allowing the public to engage with King’s writings and philosophy in their historical context. The new gift will propel the project’s research agenda by accelerating the publication of King’s remaining papers, and will support the massive undertaking of digitizing his writings to build a searchable online database available to the public and scholars worldwide.
The institute is planning engagement efforts and partnerships on a national scale, reintroducing Dr. King and his social, economic, and political ideas into public discourse. Such efforts will include public events and multimedia collaborations to highlight Dr. King’s legacy and commemorate upcoming anniversaries of seminal events in his public life, including the Letter from Birmingham Jail and the March on Washington, where he delivered the momentous “I Have a Dream” speech.
In addition to wider public engagement and awareness, the King Institute plans collaborative efforts with external partners, including museums and other universities. A new pipeline of postdoctoral students and visiting scholars from other universities will conduct collaborative research at Stanford.
A gift from alum Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snap, will provide endowed support for the King Institute. (Image credit: Snap, Inc.)
Through collaboration with Stanford’s new Institute on Race – of which the King Institute will be an anchor component – prominent and up-and-coming scholars will be able to take advantage of the King Institute’s resources and share their knowledge with Stanford faculty and students as guest lecturers.
Another major area of focus for the institute is education, particularly for underserved and disenfranchised groups. The institute is looking to scale its educational outreach to learners across the country. Such efforts include a partnership with Stanford Digital Education and the National Education Equity Lab to offer a digital humanities course to high school students, piloted with students from Camden Prep, a free charter school in New Jersey. Another planned offering is a summer college-prep course on Dr. King and citizenship for underserved San Francisco Bay Area high school students. Participating students will be able to receive Stanford credit.
In addition, a travel seminar is under development for Stanford undergraduates that would see them study important civil rights movement–era legal cases and travel to relevant historic sites throughout the Southeast to deepen their knowledge of these pivotal events.
“Preserving, documenting, and educating the public on the legacies of civil rights work is integral in shaping an accurate and healthy discourse,” said Isabelle Coloma, ’24, who is a research intern at the institute. “I am excited that this gift will allow greater engagement with the student body while expanding the King Institute’s research collaborations across disciplines. My personal and academic perspectives have been transformed by my time at the institute, and I hope that other students, regardless of major, have an opportunity to experience the same.”
In the spirit of Dr. King’s advocacy for the disenfranchised, the King Institute is also proposing a continuing studies program for individuals who are incarcerated – with Stanford graduate and undergraduate students serving as teaching assistants and tutors to extend this educational opportunity to an often-overlooked population.
“This gift is integral to realizing Stanford’s commitment to the King Institute and the legacy of Dr. King,” said Debra Satz, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences and the Marta Sutton Weeks Professor in Ethics in Society. “It will add energy and momentum to Stanford’s vision for the institute, advancing scholarship and increasing its capacity to engage with our students on campus and with communities beyond.”
“The timing is auspicious,” Satz noted. “This infusion of resources into the King Institute coincides with the departmentalization of African and African American Studies and the establishment of the Institute on Race, creating incredible synergies to advance Stanford’s solutions-oriented efforts to move us closer to a more just society.”