The Papers Project Grows Up

Courtesy Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute

What started with a 10 p.m. phone call in January 1985 this month becomes an endowed entity on campus—the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.

Coretta Scott King made that long-ago call to history professor Clayborne Carson, asking if he would consider heading up the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project. Carson agreed, and to date has edited and published five of an anticipated 14 volumes of the civil rights leader’s work. In the intervening years, he also has enlisted undergraduates in research projects, set up summer internships, done professional development for teachers and established kingpapers.org (which he calls “the most popular civil rights website”). “When you add all that together, it is an institute, and the new name reflects what we’ve been doing for some time,” Carson says. “The reason for forming the institute is to broaden our mission from just doing King papers.”

As an affiliate of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, the King institute will fill a niche between the King Center in Atlanta and the King memorial planned for the Mall in Washington, D.C. “In terms of who is actually going to be educating the public about the meaning of King’s legacy and the movement he inspired, that has to be something like [the institute],” Carson says.

He is seeking an endowment of $12 million, and already has found two $1 million donors in football great Ronnie Lott’s nonprofit All Stars Helping Kids Foundation and the Mumford Family-Agape Foundation. “Lott was the first to step forward and say, ‘I understand that there should be an educational research institute devoted to keeping that legacy alive for future generations,’ ” says Carson.

The institute launches on January 21 with “Celebrating South African Freedom: A Symposium on the International Campaign to End Apartheid.”