Clayborne Carson (born June 15, 1944) is an African-American professor of history at Stanford University, and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute. Since 1985 he has directed the Martin Luther King Papers Project, a long-term project to edit and publish the papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Carson was born in Buffalo, New York. He grew up near Los Alamos, New Mexico, where his was one of a small number of African-American families. He attributes his lifelong interest in the Civil Rights Movement to that experience. "I had this really strong curiosity about the black world, because in Los Alamos the black world was a very few families. When the civil rights movement started, I had this real fascination with it, and I wanted to meet the people in it."
On August 28, 1963, 19-year-old Carson attended the historic March on Washington. After a freshman year at the University of New Mexico, where he was one of 150 Black students among 20,000 undergraduates, Carson was overwhelmed to find himself among hundreds of thousands of African Americans at the March. Recalling the March, at which Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Carson says, "I have a lot of vivid memories, but not of King’s speech." What left the biggest impression, he says, were "the people I met there."
Carson earned his B.A. (1967), M.A. (1971), and Ph.D. (1975) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While studying at UCLA, he was involved in civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protests. He speaks of that experience in his current writing, highlighting the importance of grassroots political activity within the African American freedom struggle.
Carson has taught and lectured in Britain, France, China, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. He lectures about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Black Panther Party, and other subjects related to the black struggle. He has been a frequent guest on Pacifica Radio station KPFA in Berkeley, California, and has also appeared on programs like NPR's Fresh Air, the Tavis Smiley Show, the Charlie Rose Show, Good Morning America, and the CBS Evening News. Carson is a member of the global council of the California International Law Center at the University of California, Davis School of Law.
He is married to Susan Ann Carson, who until her retirement was the managing editor of the King Papers Project, and lives in Palo Alto, California. His son, Malcolm, graduated from Howard University and the University of California's Boalt School of Law, and is currently working as the Managing Attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation in South Los Angeles. His daughter Temera, who is employed by the County of Santa Clara, graduated from San Jose State University with a master's degree in social work, and lives with her three children in East Palo Alto, California.
Author, "Blacks and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement," in Strangers and Neighbors: Relations between Blacks and Jews in the United States