Clayborne Carson

Clayborne Carson photo credit Michael Collopy
(photo by Michael Collopy)

Clayborne Carson, the general editorial advisor to the King Legacy, is professor of history and founding director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. During 2009 he also served as the King Distinguished Professor at Morehouse College and the first executive director of that institution’s King Collection. He has been a visiting professor or visiting fellow at American University, the University of California, Berkeley, Emory University, Harvard University, and the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.

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. His first book, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, remains the definitive history of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most dynamic and innovative civil rights organization. Published in 1981, In Struggle won the Organization of American Historians' Frederick Jackson Turner Award. His other publications include Malcolm X: The FBI File. He is co-author of African American Lives: The Struggle for Freedom, a comprehensive survey of African-American history. Dr. Carson also served as senior advisor for a fourteen-part, award-winning, public television series on the civil rights movement entitled "Eyes on the Prize" and co-edited the Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader. 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!”, "Blacks and Jews”, "Citizen King", "Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power", and "Have You Heard from Johannesburg?" a multipart documentary about the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa.

In 1985 he was invited by Coretta Scott King to direct a long-term project to edit and publish the definitive multivolume edition, The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., that includes many of King’s speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications, and unpublished writings. This project is being conducted under the auspices of the King Institute at Stanford in association with the King Center and the King Estate. In addition to these volumes, he has written or co-edited numerous other works based on the papers, including A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.; The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., compiled from King’s autobiographical writings; and A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The King Institute's enormously popular website -- -- reaches a diverse, global audience, and the Liberation Curriculum initiative that Dr. Carson conceived has become a major source of educational materials about King and the ongoing struggles to achieve peace with social justice.

Dr. Carson wrote “Passages of Martin Luther King,” a play that was initially produced by Stanford’s Drama Department in 1993.  Passages of Martin Luther King recreates the journey of the young King to the mature King, from youthful clergyman to passionate advocate for world peace. The play formed the basis for the award-winning Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.. It has been performed at various locations across the country, and made its international premiere on June 21, 2007, at the Beijing Oriental Pioneer Theatre performed by the National Theatre of China. Full houses viewed the four subsequent performances of the first drama to bring together Chinese actors and African-American gospel singers.

Dr. Carson also collaborated with the Roma Design Group of San Francisco to create the winning proposal in an international competition to design the national King memorial now being built in Washington, D. C.

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 Sr.

Dr. Carson has lectured at more than a hundred colleges and universities in nearly every state as well as in more than a dozen nations. He has also appeared on many national radio and television shows, including Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, The NewsHour, Fresh Air, Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, 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.