A Sudden Call

Carson’s work for the Papers Project is all consuming. Research doesn’t end at 5 p.m. or on weekends, and when he isn’t on a plane bound for Atlanta, he’s 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 the 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 King’s 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 doesn’t hesitate to speak up. After a recent campus lecture by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., dean of the nation’s historians, Carson challenged the Pulitzer Prize-winning author on the meaning of “radical” multiculturalism in restrained but insistent tones.

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.”

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MAY/JUNE 1996

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 Engineering Leadership
 James Gibbons
 John Hennessy

 Martin Luther King Jr.
 Clayborne Carson
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