American Prophet: The Inner Life and Global Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.

American Prophet is a course about the inner life and thoughts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many history books tell us that King was a civil rights leader who advocated for peaceful protest and made inspirational speeches. But what was he really thinking and feeling during the various campaigns in which he participated? How did he even become a civil rights leader in the first place? Was he really as confident about his methods as we think?

Over the coming weeks, we will address these questions and many others while exposing participants to one of the most important techniques in historical analysis: the use of primary source documents as windows into the past. There are thousands of documents about King that have been published, with more available online, and each one gives us insight into what his life was really like. In this course, we will focus on a few documents each week in order to both help participants learn the best strategies for understanding primary sources and leverage the information contained within them for our study of King. By the end of the course, participants will feel comfortable using documents as historical sources, appreciate who Dr. King was on a more personal level, and gain new skills in understanding the nuances of historical study.


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Staff

Dr. Clayborne Carson

Clayborne Carson has devoted his professional life to the study of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movements King inspired. Since receiving his doctorate from UCLA in 1975, Dr. Carson has taught at Stanford University, where he is the Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor, Emeritus of history and was the Founding Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to buy a textbook?

There are no required textbooks for this class. However, in each episode, we will present a list of optional recommended reading for those interested in delving further into the concepts we introduce.

Course Page
Paid after free trial
Online, self-paced, EdX
Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences