As people across the United States confront the country’s history of anti-Black racism, Stanford Online is featuring a series of free and low-cost online courses that discuss America’s painful past and what can be done to promote social justice and equity today.

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Stanford Online

In his Stanford Online class, Stanford historian Clayborne Carson takes online learners on a virtual journey across the United States to visit places important to Martin Luther King Jr., such as the Clayborn Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, where King joined the sanitation workers’ strike for their rallies in 1968.

Taught by Stanford scholars, these online classes are available to members of the general public, who can audit them either for free or for an enrollment fee. Included in Stanford Online’s selection is a class about how to use compassion and kindness as a force for social good, a course on understanding poverty and inequality and also a seminar on anti-discrimination law.

One class on offer is the American Prophet: The Inner Life and Global Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., taught by Stanford historian Clayborne Carson, a leading expert on the teachings of the civil rights leader. In this online class, Carson takes students on virtual field trips across the U.S. to visit places significant to King’s life and the movement he led.

The course begins in Atlanta, Georgia where Carson shows students locations from King’s childhood. He brings them inside the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King’s father was the pastor and to the steps outside King’s childhood home. Students then learn about King’s life in Boston where he attended university and met many of the early influential people in his life, including his wife, Coretta – whom Carson got to know when he worked with her to publish some of King’s writings.

Some of these historic materials also form an important part of the course, where students are encouraged to develop historical reading skills from Carson to thoroughly analyze selected documents.

“When Coretta Scott King selected me to edit and publish her late husband’s papers, I never imagined that I could someday immerse my students in my research,” Carson said. “My online ‘American Prophet’ course comes close to realizing my dream of teaching about King by showing rather than telling.”

For example, Carson discusses a letter King wrote while in jail for his demonstrations for Black voting rights in Selma, Alabama. In the note to his associates, King offers strategies about how to use his arrest to garner attention for their campaign. Students are then encouraged to read King’s message for themselves.

Carson also discusses the March on Washington and the story behind King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Carson also highlights other meaningful locations to the civil rights leader, such as the cities of Montgomery, Birmingham, Memphis and Chicago.

Carson is the Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor of History in the School of Humanities and Sciences and the Ronnie Lott Founding Director of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

In addition to the American Prophet: The Inner Life and Global Vision of Martin Luther King course, other classes Stanford Online are highlighting during these turbulent times include:

  • Love as a Force for Social Justice
    Taught by Anne Firth Murray, an adjunct professor in feminist, gender and sexuality studies, this six-week e-course starts on July 6, 2020, and explores the concepts of compassion and kindness as a force for social justice and action, and as the inspiration for positive social change. Topics of discussion include different kinds of love and how to define it, non-violent communication, love and the biology of the brain, love as a basic concept of religious and ethical beliefs (from Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, for example), and how the poetic expressions of love can be a social force for good.
  • America’s Poverty and Inequality Course
    Co-taught by David B. Grusky, the Barbara Kimball Browning Professor in the Humanities & Sciences, a professor of sociology and director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality, and Lindsay Owens, an economic policy advisor in the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), this self-paced class examines how, in America, income inequality has reached unprecedented levels, poverty remains extreme and racial and gender inequalities are intransigent. Why is there so much inequality and poverty? How might they be reduced? This course tackles these questions and highlights the most recent findings and results on poverty and inequality.
  • Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law
    Co-taught by Stanford law Professor Richard Thompson Ford and David B. Oppenheimer, a clinical professor of law at UC Berkeley, this 16-week course uses a problem-based approach to examine a global view of anti-discrimination law, comparing U.S., European, and other national, regional and international legal systems, including those of India, Brazil and South Africa. The course covers five topic modules: employment discrimination and harassment (race, sex, age, disability), marriage equality (race, same-sex), affirmative action (race, caste, origin)/gender parity, hate speech (race, sex, religion and secularism) and the rights of religious minorities. The course costs $75 but financial aid is available to those who qualify.

These are just some of the many available courses Stanford Online offers in the humanities and sciences. All of Stanford Online’s free courses are listed on their website at

Stanford Online is part of the Stanford Center for Professional Development, a pioneer in extended education since 1995.