Stanford’s King Papers Project receives grant

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) recently awarded a $200,000 grant to Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute to support the continuation of its King Papers Project.

Clayborne Carson
Clayborne Carson, professor of history and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute. (Credit: Linda A. Cicero)

The King Papers Project’s mission is to publish a 14-volume comprehensive, chronological collection of King’s most significant correspondence, sermons, speeches, published and unpublished writings. Historian CLAYBORNE CARSON, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor at Stanford, has overseen the project since 1985, when King’s widow, the late Coretta Scott King, asked him to edit and publish a definitive edition of her late husband’s documents. The project has produced seven books so far.

“This support is crucial to our work,” Carson said, adding that the new grant is the largest the project has received from NHPRC. “The commitment of the federal government to historical preservation is allowing us to make King’s global vision for social justice freely available to the public.”

The new grant will fund work on the eighth and ninth volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. series and their digital editions, which will cover the period between September 1962 and the end of 1964.

The two books will chronicle efforts to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, and St. Augustine, Florida, as well as the historic 1963 March on Washington and the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Tenisha Armstrong, associate director of the King Institute, is the lead editor on the volumes.

The goal of the NHPRC’s grant program is to provide access to, and editorial context for, the historical documents and records that tell the American story. The King Papers Project was one of 31 endeavors that the commission contributed to this year.

Each volume of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. includes noteworthy documents related to King or the civil rights movement from the time period it covers. Documents are annotated to provide context for the readers.

Carson said a big part of the project is solely dedicated to physically collecting documents, which are scattered among hundreds of archives and personal collections across the United States.

“We’re really telling the story of a social movement as well as of King himself,” Carson said. “That’s challenging because the documents are not in one place. If King wrote a letter to someone, that letter will be in the recipient’s collection, not among King’s papers. So a lot of research and time goes into tracking some of these records.”

The project’s eighth volume is expected to be published in 2021, Armstrong said.