Tenisha Armstrong: Scholar in residence


For The Madera Tribune

King Papers Project staff with Minnijean Brown-Trickey, one of the “Little Rock Nine” who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957.” Tenisha Armstrong is shown here third from the left, next to Minnijean Brown Trickey.

I have in my library a number of books that have been autographed by their authors or editors, but one stands out among all the rest. It is Volume V of “The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” edited by Tenisha Armstrong.


On the inside, Tenisha penned an inscription that I rarely read without getting a little misty. It says:


“Rarely there is one special teacher who makes a profound impact on a student’s life. Mr. Coate, you are such a teacher. You have inspired me to teach, research, and appreciate the past. Without your inspiration, this volume would not have been possible.”


— Tenisha Armstrong


Feb. 8, 2005


Tenisha presented this volume with its inscription to me at a school board meeting. She had gone to the podium to tell the story of how, as when she was a teenager at Howard School, she had been involved in researching the Civil War diary of Frederick John Quant as part of a Madera Method project. She brought with her a copy of the book her class had written on the California Hundred, which contained an inscription from me congratulating her on becoming an author before she even got to high school. She returned the compliment that night by giving me her own autographed book.


I tell this story here because Tenisha is an example of another Maderan who has overcome, and she is going to be featured in another Madera Method book, one in which some local eighth graders are telling the story of Madera’s African-American community and the achievements of some who became examples of faith and determination to the entire community and beyond. The list is not exhaustive, but it does provide glimpses of grace and greatness. Tenisha Armstrong is one of these.


After graduating from Madera High School in 1994, she went to the University of California, Santa Cruz where she earned a B.A. in American Studies, with Honors, in 1998. From there, she headed to Stanford, where she earned her M.A. in Liberal Studies in 2006. It was at that point that Tenisha was introduced to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project, and began an exciting climb in academia to her present position.


Tenisha began her work with the King Papers Project as a Research Fellow in the summer of 1998. From there, she moved to Research Assistant (1998–2001), Assistant Editor (2001–2006), Associate Director/Editor (2006–2020), and finally to her present position, as Director/Senior Editor — Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project.


Founded in 1985 by Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project at Stanford University is a long-term effort to publish the authoritative fourteen-volume edition of King’s most historically significant speeches, sermons, correspondence, and unpublished manuscripts. Thus far, the Project has published seven volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., chronicling King’s life from January 1929 through August 1962.


Tenisha began work in the project as an intern where she learned the fundamentals of documentary editing and historical research. At the end of that first eight-week internship, she was offered a research assistant position. Then she was promoted several times until she was named as the director of the project.


As director, she supervises a team of five researchers and manages all aspects of manuscript preparation, including acquisition of new documents, approving final decisions on document selection and annotations, consulting on editorial matters with the Project’s advisory board, verifying the final draft of the manuscript prior to submission to UC Press, and coordinating the editing of galley and page proofs. In addition, she writes grant proposals and reports, as well as sets priorities for the project’s website.


Students in Scott Gandy and Samuel Colunga’s eighth grade classes at Eastin-Arcola and La Vina Schools, respectively, are looking forward to telling Tenisha’s story and how she went from a student at Madera High School to a highly recognized historian and researcher with a national reputation.

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