A Sudden Call
Carsons work for the Papers Project is all consuming. Research
doesnt end at 5 p.m. or on weekends, and when he isnt on a plane
bound for Atlanta, hes often meeting with prospective donors to ask them to
fund yet more research.
Appointed to the history department at Stanford in 1974, the 52-year-old
professor is a specialist on the civil rights movement who has written two works
on that period, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s and
Malcolm X: The FBI File. He also served as co-editor of Eyes on
Prize, a guide to the 1987 PBS television series about the American civil
rights movement. In 1993, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther
Kings assassination, he wrote Passages of Martin Luther King, a play
that debuted at Stanford and was performed this winter at Dartmouth College.
Behind a classroom lectern, Carson is a forceful speaker whose well-organized
presentations reflect the preparation he puts into his undergraduate lectures and
graduate seminars. Put him on a faculty panel and he doesnt hesitate to
speak up. After a recent campus lecture by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., dean of the
nations historians, Carson challenged the Pulitzer Prize-winning author on
the meaning of radical multiculturalism in restrained but insistent
Carson has written extensively about the influence of family life and
lack of it on Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. His own growing-up
days with five siblings in New Mexico, where his father had retired from military
service after World War II to become a security guard at the civilian
laboratories in Los Alamos, left him with a sense of being from outpost
black America, he says.
I had this really strong curiosity about the black world, because in
Los Alamos the black world was a very few families, he says. When the
civil rights movement started, I had this real fascination with it, and I wanted
to meet the people in it.