Clayborne Carson Full Bio

Clayborne Carson

Dr. Clayborne Carson

Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor Emeritus, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Dr. Clayborne Carson Full Biography

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 has served as Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor of History (now Emeritus) .In 1985 the late Coretta Scott King invited Dr. Carson to direct a long-term project to edit and publish an authoritative edition of her late husband's speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications, and unpublished writings.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 iis completing his final year diirecting the King Institute, he will continue his research and teaching as a Senior Fellow at ghe Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

During his undergraduate years at UCLA, Dr. Carson 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 eidted, The Autoiograhy of Martin Luther Kinh, Jr., compiled from his autobiographical writings and published in more than a dozen languages. The audio version of The Autobiographywon a Grammy award in 2000.

Dr. Carson also 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). In addition to his regular courses at Stanford, Carson teaches an online open enrollment course, American Prophet: The Inner Life and Global Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. and produces a podcast, The World House.

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 taught at the UCLA, 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. He has appeared on numerous national radio and television shows, such as Good Morning America, BBC, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, Fresh Air, Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley, Christiane Amampour, Marketplace, and CSPAN American History TV.

Carson has received four honorary degrees, including one from Morehouse College, the institution once attended by Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as King's father and grandfather. Other awards include the Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians (for In Struggle) and the John W. Blassingame Award from the Southern Historical Association. In 2018 he received the prestigeous International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India from the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation in Mumbai, India. 

Clayborne 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's Boalt 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 work supervisor in charge of recruitment of resources for foster homes in the County of Santa Clara, California. His grand-daughter Dalila Adofo is a community organizer for Greenaction for Health and Environmental Jusitice in San Francisco.

Infographic Timeline

A brief history of Dr. Carson's work

Clayborne Carson infographic