Clayborne Carson honored with 2023 Freedom Award
This award recognizes individuals for their exceptional contributions to advancing civil and human rights.
Clayborne Carson, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor and professor of history, emeritus, at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, has been named one of three recipients of the 2023 Freedom Award presented by the National Civil Rights Museum.
In 1985, Carson was asked by Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow, to direct The King Papers Project with the mission of assembling and publishing the collected papers of her late husband. Carson would later found the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford to disseminate educational materials based on the institute's documentary resources by and about King and other participants in the Civil Rights Movement.
“For me, the award is a recognition of the important role the historian plays in ensuring the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement are never forgotten,” Carson said. “When I came to Stanford in 1974, I wanted to move beyond the usual outlets of the historian—the classroom, books, and lectures—to expand what it means to be a historian. The Freedom Award is a recognition that I have achieved that important goal.”
Carson is the author and editor of numerous books, including the first seven volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. (University of California Press, 1992, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2005, 2007, and 2014). He has taught and lectured throughout the world and has served as a historical adviser for more than two dozen documentary films, including the Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning documentary series Eyes on the Prize (PBS debut, 1987).
Carson and fellow 2023 recipients of the Freedom Award, Kerry Kennedy and Stacey Abrams, were feted at a gala ceremony in Memphis in October.
“I am, of course, tremendously appreciative of the National Civil Rights Museum for recognizing my work, which is ongoing,” Carson said. “Making it especially meaningful was that I learned I would receive the Freedom Award right after finding out I had had a stroke. It was the best news to speed my recovery. I was able to get well enough to travel to Memphis for the awards ceremony with my wife and daughter.”
In 2020, Carson retired as the institute's director, but he has continued his human rights activities by establishing the World House Project and working with an expanding community of activists both in the United States and throughout the world.
Since 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum has presented The Freedom Award, which honors those who have dedicated their lives to the advancement of civil and human rights. Past honorees include a long list of civil and human rights leaders, champions, and activists from across the globe, including Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey, the Dalai Lama, and Presidents Biden, Clinton, and Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev, among many others.