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Historian & Author
Selected in 1985 by the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King to edit and publish the papers of her late husband, Stanford University historian Clayborne Carson has devoted most of his professional life to the study of Martin Luther King Jr. and the movements King inspired. Under his direction, the King Papers Project has produced six volumes of a definitive, comprehensive edition of speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications, and unpublished writings. Dr. Carson has also edited numerous other books based on King's papers. In 2005 the King Papers Project became part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, with Dr. Carson serving as the Institute's founding director. Read More >
A member of Stanford's Department of History since receiving his doctorate from UCLA in 1975, Carson has also served as visiting professor or visiting fellow at American University, the University of California-Berkeley, Duke University, Emory University, Harvard University, the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, the L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where during 2009 he was Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Professor and Executive Director of that institution's King Collection.
Dr. Carson's extensive writings reflect not only his research about King but also his undergraduate civil rights and antiwar activism, which led him to appreciate the importance of grassroots political activity as well as visionary leadership in the African American freedom struggle. His first book, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, published in 1981, remains the definitive history of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most dynamic and innovative civil rights organization. In Struggle won the Organization of American Historians' Frederick Jackson Turner Award. His other publications include Malcolm X: The FBI File (1991). He is co-author of African American Lives: The Struggle for Freedom (2005), a comprehensive survey of African American history.
In addition to The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr., Carson's other works based on the papers include The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. (1998), compiled from the King’s autobiographical writings, A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (1998), and A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (2001).
Dr. Carson wrote “Passages of Martin Luther King,” a play that was initially produced by Stanford’s Drama Department in 1993, and subsequently performed at Dartmouth College, Willamette University, the Claremont Colleges, the University of Washington-Tacoma, and other places. On June 21, 2007, the National Theatre of China performed the international premiere of "Passages" at the Beijing Oriental Pioneer Theatre, and full houses viewed the four subsequent performances of the first drama to bring together Chinese actors and African American gospel singers. During March and April 2011, the Palestinian National Theater "Al Hakawati" presented the first Arabic production of "Passages" in East Jerusalem, with additional performances in the West Bank communities of Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron, Tulkarem, and Ramallah. This production became the basis for Connie Field’s documentary, Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine.
In addition to his books and scholarly writings publications, Dr. Carson has devoted considerable attention to using digital technology and the internet to bring his research and human rights ideals to a global audience. Dr. Carson was a senior historical advisor for a 14-part award-winning public television series on the Civil Rights Movement entitled Eyes on the Prize and co-edited Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader (1991). In addition, he served as historical advisor for Freedom on My Mind, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1995, as well as for Chicano! (1996), Blacks and Jews (1997), Citizen King (2004), Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power (2005), and Have You Heard from Johannesburg? (2010), a multipart documentary about the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa.
Dr. Carson also collaborated with the Roma Design Group of San Francisco to create the winning proposal in an international competition to design the King National Memorial in Washington, DC, and he has served as an advisor to the King National Memorial Foundation.
Among the many honors and awards Dr. Carson has received, the honorary degree he received in 2007 from Morehouse College had special meaning, because it made him part of the community of Morehouse Men that includes Martin Luther King Jr. and Martin Luther King Sr. In 2018, Carson was invited to Mumbai to receive the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation’s award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India.
Dr. Carson has lectured throughout the United States and in many other nations including India, China, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, England, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In addition to his King lectures, Carson's topics have included Gandhi, Malcolm X, SNCC, the Black Panther Party, nonviolent resistance, and black-Jewish relations. He has appeared on many national radio and television shows, including Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, The NewsHour, “Fresh Air,” “Morning Edition,” Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, Democracy Now, and “Marketplace.” Dr. Carson has also participated in dramatic readings based on his play "Passages of Martin Luther King." For many years, he has delivered lectures on behalf of the Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lectureship Program. Read Less ^
"Clay was terrific, very personable, inserted his personal story when appropriate, especially in the Q&A period. He was great with a group of about 30 high school kids who met with him in the afternoon. The Target folks (they were the day’s sponsors) who were here from corporate were thrilled. They joined us for lunch (Clay and some museum leadership) and he was great."
"Clayborne was a total winner—very engaging and educational. We had about 250, and everyone was more than pleased to be there. He really allowed us to accomplish what we wanted, which was to celebrate MLK with depth and substance for a general audience. Thanks greatly for this one."
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