By Cameron Stuart | Radio Director
In honor of Black History Month, Dr. Clayborne Carson, author and professor of History at Stanford University, came to Baylor to discuss the inside life and global vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Kayser Auditorium on Thursday.
Carson, who is also the director of the King Papers Project which is the preservation King’s personal writings, spoke for nearly 90 minutes, mainly about how King’s accomplishments. According to Carson, most of the accomplishments, can be attributed to the support of his wife, Coretta Scott King. Carson has studied Martin Luther King’s papers for over 30 years and even attended King’s “I have a dream” speech in 1963.
Baylor history professor and undergraduate program director Dr. James SoRelle, who helped bring Carson to campus, was not expecting the thorough explaining of King’s marriage.
“We often forget that [Coretta Scott King] carried this torch to maintain and protect the image of her husband,” SoRelle said. “There’s a tendency to think that with strong male leaders that there’s nobody right behind them, so I think viewing them as a couple is very important but I wasn’t expecting it.”
Carson highlighted the courting process between Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott as the process that made Martin Luther King into the social leader he became. He showed that Coretta King’s influence is what gave her husband the platform he needed during the Civil Rights movement.
“One thing I know for certain is that [Coretta] would have been famous even if she had never met Martin,” Carson said. “When she had met him, she was the activist. She always said he had plenty of ideas but hadn’t done anything yet.”
Carson recognizes that people often don’t think of Coretta Scott King when they think about her husband and his relation to the Civil Rights movement, but he wanted to show the couple in a different light.
“I can now never imagine [the Kings] separately and not as a couple,” Carson said.
Coretta Scott King first contacted Carson in 1985 to read her husband’s papers and Carson studied Martin Luther King’s personal papers for over a decade. While he stills admires Martin Luther King as a leader in the Civil Rights movement, he does not want people to believe he did it all by himself.
“We should not romanticize that because of his commitment and because of his articulate speeches that’s why change happened,” Carson said. “Through these papers, we find someone who had a great amount of encouragement on the home front.”
In his introduction, SoRelle called Carson “the encyclopedic mind of the King papers.” Carson, while reading the Kings’ personal letters, made a startling discovery of a letter from the FBI in which he claims J. Edgar Hoover blackmailed Martin Luther King into thinking he had taped confessions of his extramarital affairs.
“This forged letter basically said that he had a certain amount of days to ‘do the right thing,’” Carson said. “That basically meant to commit suicide.”
SoRelle stressed that, even over 50 years after Martin Luther King’s death, he is still important to learn about today.
“There’s still so much that we don’t know about him,” SoRelle said. “When you read his papers, you keep finding out what he likes and doesn’t like.”
According to The King Legacy website, Carson has written three books on Martin Luther King, including the seven volume edition of his personal papers.