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January 17, 2005

Martin Luther King's Habitual Plagiarism

It's Martin Luther King Day, and time to remind everyone of how inappropriate it is for a university to have a holiday in honor of someone who plagiarized his doctoral thesis (as well as other academic work). Details can be found in a collection of articles in the The Journal of American History of which the following is one:

"King's Plagiarism: Imitation, Insecurity, and Transformation" (in Becoming Martin Luther King, Jr.-Plagriarism and Originality: A Round Table), David J. Garrow, The Journal of American History, Vol. 78, No. 1. (June 1991), pp. 86-92.

Webpages are less reliable, but here is one book review/A> that sounds accurate:

The news has been out since the late 1980s that Martin Luther King Jr., the American Civil Rights icon, was a serial plagiarist. Not only did he plagiarize at least half of his doctoral thesis; many of his speeches, including the most famous, were plagiarized too. Nor was this a recent development in his career - he had been plagiarizing material since he was a teenager....

The plagiarism did not begin or end with the doctoral thesis, so much so that the Collected Papers of Luther King Jr. apparently devotes at least as much time to "uncited sources" as it does to his own work, if that is the correct description. Even the much celebrated "I have a dream" speech of 1963 was plagiarized. By a peculiar turn of events, the source King raided for this was a speech given to the Republican National convention of 1952, by a black preacher named Archibald Carey.

The trail leads all the way back through Luther King Jr.'s undergraduate days to his teenage years - the earliest known instance is apparently an essay written at age 15. It seems to be harder to find something that that was incontestably original and not plagiarized....

Pappas was instrumental in breaking the story in the US, as the editor of the periodical Chronicles, which published the first details in late 1990, closely followed by The Wall Street Journal (though one should note that the first reports emerged in early 1990 from a handful of conservative organizations). This remarkable scoop for Pappas was due to courage only, since most other papers (including at least Dan Balz at the Washington Post, the editor of the New York Times book review section, and the Atlanta Journal/Constitution) and newsmagazines had already known of the story for months. Later, The New Republic would publish a mea culpa, bemoaning their own decision to kill the story, but others were not as forthcoming.

King's sexual immorality is also a count against him, as this article says:
A few years later, with the publication in 1989 of Ralph Abernathy's autobiography, "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down," those rumors were substantiated by one of King's closest friends and political allies. ...

In the course of the Senate debate on the King holiday, the East office received a letter from a retired FBI official, Charles D. Brennan. Mr. Brennan, who had served as Assistant Director of the FBI, stated that he had personally been involved in the FBI surveillance of King and knew from first-hand observation the truth about King's sexual conduct --- conduct that Mr. Brennan characterized as "orgiastic and adulterous escapades, some of which indicated that King could be bestial in his sexual abuse of women."

He also stated that "King frequently drank to excess and at times exhibited extreme emotional instability as when he once threatened to jump from his hotel room window." In a study that he prepared, Mr. Brennan described King's "sexual activities and his excessive drinking" that FBI surveillance discovered. It was this kind of conduct, he wrote, that led FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to describe King as "a tomcat with obsessive degenerate sexual urges" and President Lyndon Johnson to call King a "hypocrite preacher." ...

It is precisely this material that is sealed under court order until the year 2027 and to which the Senate was denied access prior to the vote on the King holiday.

The last sentence refers to the Senate's refusal to unseal the relevant records so they could be read before voting on making Martin Luther King Day a federal holiday.

Posted by erasmuse at January 17, 2005 09:45 AM

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Comments

As my husband persists in saying, "what you don't understand is," it is purely symbolic for identity politics. There is no percentage in parsing what King contributed, and what he didn't. It's about going into cultural trance and worshipping agreed-upon temporal gods. It's about institutionalized dimness, and deliberate misdirection.

I don't think King would have thought it was particularly wonderful to march forever hand-in-hand with bureaucratic time-servers and vulgarian hip-hoppers, the crowd who have scooped up his "legacy" and "holiday."

Posted by: HM at January 17, 2005 12:42 PM

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