The founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute (Stanford Univ.) reviews his own life, tells how he became involved with the publication of King’s papers and charts the complicated choreography of his relationship with the King family.
Carson, who has edited numerous titles related to King and 1960s civil unrest (The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1998, etc.), begins at the 1963 March on Washington when he witnessed King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The author ends with the 2011 opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, a project in which he was initially involved. In between these memorial moments are the stories of his own life—growing up in Los Alamos, moving to California, getting involved with student protests, meeting the woman he would marry, rising in academe—and of the day in 1985 when he received a call from Coretta Scott King asking if he would edit her late husband’s papers. Some complicated negotiations ensued and essentially never stopped. His relationship with King’s widow was complex, but with the son Dexter (and his siblings), it resembled something out of a very long Victorian novel. The relationships among the Kings were tricky, too—internecine even—and Carson treads softly on toes, even sort of siding with Dexter’s contention that James Earl Ray was innocent. Carson proceeded to begin publishing King’s papers and to get into print all sorts of other King-related collections. The author sometimes reveals a thin skin and cavils about his hurt feelings concerning things said or not said. A chapter about a Palestinian production of his play Passages of Martin Luther King features backstage spats and wounded egos.
Compelling aspects of memoir and cultural history mixed with laments and self-defense.