Book Review: Martin's Dream by Clayborne Carson

Martin’s Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by Clayborne Carson.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 304 pages. $27.

The intellectual property of Dr. King has been subject to much controversy over the last two decades. The discovery of his apparent plagiarism in his dissertation and other academic writing shocked the public, causing many to call for the revocation of his Ph.D. from Boston University and even the annulment of his national holiday. Nevertheless, the feud between his family and academics and universities has not tarnished America’s ultimate exemplar of nonviolence. And Clayborne Carson, editor of The King Papers has had a front row seat to it all.

In his memoir Martin’s Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Carson, founder of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University lays bare the awesome and at times frustrating burden of organizing the vast corpus of the nation’s most famous clergyman. Carson began the long journey after being approached by Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott. As editor, Carson was constantly faced with the challenge of balancing his own integrity as a scholar with the needs of the wounded King family. Carson notes that because Dr. King left the family without much financial means, he did not begrudge their desire to financially benefit from his legacy. Yet, the desire of certain family members to build an amusement park near the King Center in Atlanta proved to be problematic and was never realized.

Carson takes the reader into the basement of Coretta Scott King’s modest home, where we discover a treasure trove of manuscripts, sermon notes, and books. One of most interesting stories in the memoir surrounds the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.

As fate would have it, Carson was part of the team that won the international competition to design the memorial. He would later be shunned by the ambitious executive director of the project who changed a significant portion of the architectural vision. The original design placed King in dialogue with the Thomas Jefferson memorial. What emerged was a great tribute to the leader but a shift in angle acted as a metaphor for our slanted view of Dr. King’s legacy.

Nevertheless, our democracy owes Dr. Carson a debt of gratitude. No one other than Coretta Scott King has done more to make the letters and legacy of Dr. King publicly available for generations to come. Like Dr. King, Carson forwent his own personal ambitions to give us a greater gift—the sacrifice of the self.

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