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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Clayborne Carson accepts Gittler Prize

Published: February 17, 2012
Section: Featured, Front Page, News

Professor Clayborne Carson of the African-American Studies Department at Stanford University came to Brandeis on Tuesday to receive the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize. The award, named in honor of the late sociology professor Joseph Gittler and his mother Toby Gittler, recognizes “outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations” according to the program website. Professor Frances Foster of Emory University was also awarded the prize and gave her lecture earlier this year.

Carson, who once worked as an editor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers, is now one of America’s foremost scholars on King and the civil rights movement.

In his acceptance speech, Carson marveled at the fact that nearly 50 years ago, when King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, Carson could not have fathomed becoming a professor because there were so few black college professors at that time.

In describing King’s speech, Carson commented that, “he was talking to the architects of the republic” by addressing the fundamental questions of liberty and justice that are at the core of American society.

Carson lectured the audience of students and professors on the social justice lessons he learned from King’s legacy and their meaning for humanity as a whole. He said that his lifelong journey of learning has taught him that King was more than a powerful civil rights leader; he “became a symbol for something much bigger, drew attention to it, and gave it a larger significance,” Carson said. “King was a prophet for all society.”

“As I grow older, King has become wiser. He is a person who grows on you,” Carson said, commenting on the significance of King’s lessons to his life. “I came to focus more and more not on the ‘dream’ speech, but on what he said late in his life. Now I see him as someone who understood the ‘why’ of it all.” King’s lessons of peace and justice resonate not just in the context of the civil rights movement, but for all of humanity, Carson said. This concern for humanity extends to King’s hope of demonstrating that, according to Carson, “oppressed people are not alone in the world.”

Carson also highlighted King’s work that moved beyond racial relations, including King’s anti-war beliefs and his work in the global war against poverty. He described King’s view that war was the third social evil after poverty and racism, a belief that is not widely discussed in popular discourse about King.

Carson plans to donate his prize of $25,000 to the work of the King Institute for research and awareness of the civil rights movement, which he heads at Stanford.