A SUDDEN CALL
Profile: Clayborne Carson
By Diane Manuel
Photograph by Linda Cicero
CARSONS LIFE hasnt been quite
the same since he answered the phone at 10 p.m. on a January evening in 1985.
Coretta Scott King was calling from Atlanta to
ask if he would consider heading up the Martin Luther King
Jr. Papers Project. Although Carson had some initial doubts about the
of directing the project from Stanford, he gradually was won over.
are times when you begin to identify with King being thrust into a role that he
never asked for, he says quietly. In the same kind of way, I never
applied for this position it was something that kind of dropped out of the
sky. I feel like my life has been to a large extent taken over by forces beyond
my control, and all I can hope to do is my best.
Carson has matured in the decade since Mrs. King turned to him as an
up-and-coming young academic, and his hair and neatly trimmed beard now are the
color of finely buffed pewter. He often wears an expression that is part squint,
part question mark, and his dark eyebrows tend to furrow when he digs for