Clayborne Carson

Professor of American History and Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute

At Stanford Since

Ph.D., M.A., B.A., University of California at Los Angeles
Clay Carson Headshot


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 professor of history and 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 scholarly publications have focused on African-American protest movements and political thought of the period after World War II. His other publications include Malcolm X: The FBI File (1991) and African American Lives: The Struggle for Freedom (2005, co-author), a comprehensive survey of African-American history. 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.  In 2005, Carson founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute to endow and expand the work of the Kings Papers Project. Under Carson’s direction, the King Papers Project has produced six volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. -- a projected fourteen-volume comprehensive edition of King’s most significant speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications, and unpublished writings.   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 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?" a multipart documentary about the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa. Dr. Carson has lectured throughout the United States. His topics have included King, SNCC, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, Black-Jewish relations, and affirmative action. He has appeared on many national radio and television shows, including Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, Fresh Air, Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley, and Marketplace.


Key Works

  • "King, Obama, and the Great American Dialogue." American Heritage.  Spring 2009.
  • The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Six volumes. Co-editor. University of California Press, 1992-2007. 
  • African American Lives: The Struggle for Freedom. Co-Author. Longman Publishing Group, 2005.
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Grand Central Publishing, 2001.
  • A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  Diane Publishing Company, 1998.
  • The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Brown Little, 1998.
  • Malcolm X: The FBI File.  Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1991.
  • In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakenings of the 1960s.  Harvard University Press, 1981.


Prof. Carson in the News


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