How Martin Luther King, Jr. Got Away With Plagiarism: Different Strokes for Different Folks.

From: Ronny Koch ([email protected])

This is perhaps the most outrageously hypocritical incident in
the history of American higher education: how Boston University
allowed Martin Luther King, Jr., to retain his doctorate
posthumously. This was reverse racism: "We white folks know that
Darkies have different standards."

(As a Christian Reconstructionist, I believe that God's law and
moral standards aplly to everyone, across the board. As the son
of one of the four Los Angeles-based FBI agents -- Ahern,
Benjamin, Moorehead, and North -- who identified James Earl Ray
as King's assassin, I was taught that everyone deserves the
protection of the law. My father had no use for King's politics,
but he was proud of his work on that world-famous case.)

Martin Luther King was born Michael King.
He never did have his name legally changed. He took his father's

He received his Ph.D. from Boston University, where he
plagiarized his doctoral dissertation. He also plagiarized
sections of Stride Toward Freedom. This was his practice
throughout his academic career. He regarded other men's words
just as he regarded other men's wives: as ripe for the taking.

His plagiarism has been known for a decade. It is discussed in
detail by Theodore Pappas, who wrote a book about it: The Martin
Luther King, Jr., Plagiarism Story (Rockford, Illinois: Rockford
Institute, 1994).
Pappas has published examples of this in the book he edited,
Plagiarism and the Culture War: The Writings of Martin Luther
King and Other Prominent Americans. (Halberg, 1998).;
The earliest warning that King was a plagiarist came from Ira
Zepp, in an unpublished story, which revealed that sections of
King's book, Stride Towqard Freedom, had been lifted from books
written by two theologians.

His plagiarism includes his Nobel Prize lecture, his "I have a
Dream" speech, and his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." One
biographer called this activity "ghostwriting." (Note: authors
pay ghostwriters for their work. King did not pay anyone for the
purloined sections.) A chronology of the story of his plagiarism
appears here:
[2005 Note: This document is no longer on-line. Substitiute this
The first public revelation of King's plagiarized Ph.D.
dissertation came in the London Telegraph (Dec. 3, 1989). The
story was suppressed in the U.S. until January, 1991, when
Pappas blew the lid off. (Theodore Pappas, "A Doctor in Spite of
Himself: The Strange Career of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s
Dissertation," Chronicles [Jan. 1991].) The appearance of this
article forced the American press to admit what King had done,
how the editor of King's papers had suppressed the fact for
years, lying to those who inquired about this.

The large number of plagiarized sources in everything King wrote
and preached, from the beginning of his career, is visible in
volume 1 of his Papers (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1992); the plagiarized originals appear in the footnotes.
The publication of this volume was delayed for many years
because of this public relations problem.

The response of the academic community and the media indicates
that liberals' icons are not allowed to be publicly embarrassed,
in life or posthumously. The CHRONICLES article led to a series
of defenses of King's plagiarism, including an immediate one
written by a Roman Catholic professor of metaphysics: George F.
McLean, "King's Scholarship Was Central to His Vision," Wall
Street Journal (Jan. 21, 1991).

In 1992, an untenured English professor at Arizona State
University, Keith Miller, had his book published: a defense of
King's plagiarism, which he calls "intertextualizations,"
"incorporations," "borrowings," "echoing," "resonances," and
"voice merging." On the defense, see Keith Miller, Voice of
Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King Jr., and Its
Sources (New York: Free Press, 1992). This book was reviewed by
Pappas, "A Houdini of Time," Chronicle (Nov. 1992).

A faculty committee at Boston University, which awarded King the
Ph.D., concluded in 1991 that the first half of his dissertation
was 45 percent stolen, the second half was 21 percent stolen,
but the thesis nonetheless remains legitimate and "an
intelligent contribution to scholarship." The school did not
revoke his degree. (Pappas, Martin Luther King, p. 103.)

Reed Irvine, who runs Accuracy in Media, a conservative media-
monitoring organization, has summarized the scandal.

Theodore Pappas has written a piece for Chronicles magazine that
should be required reading for every journalism student and
journalist. It tells the story of how the media, including book
publishers, tried to suppress the story of how famed civil
rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King committed plagiarism --
stealing material from other people and claiming it as his own.
For his role in bringing this to the public's attention, Pappas
says he received three death threats, one left hook to the jaw
and 40 rejections from 40 publishers in 40 months. This is quite
a record. When he finally found a publisher, the book's first
edition was sold out. It carried the title, The Martin Luther
King, Jr. Plagiarism Story.
Pappas recounts his effort in publicizing the story in the May
issue of Chronicles magazine, where he serves as managing
editor. Pappas was the first journalist who exposed, with
parallel quotations, how segments of King's Ph.D dissertation
had been copied from a previous work. He estimates that 66
percent of King's dissertation was plagiarized. On top of
revelations about King's womanizing, the plagiarism allegations
served to demonstrate that while King postured as a paragon of
moral virtue, he was in reality a scoundrel. This is not
something that a lot of people wanted to hear.

The Wall Street Journal, considered by some a conservative
newspaper, heard the story was breaking and ran its own piece --
a whitewash of the charges against King. Even the Journal's
editorial page tried to suppress the significance of the story
by insisting that it had to be covered in a "carefully
modulated" manner.

Writing in the New Republic magazine, Charles Babington would
later reveal that the Washington Post, the New York Times and
the New Republic itself all had known the facts about King's
plagiarism but refused to publish them. The Times eventually did
cover the issue but in a subsequent editorial suggested that the
plagiarism was somehow comparable to a politician using a ghost
writer for speeches.

Pappas's expanded version of the King Plagiarism Story has now
been published by Hallberg Publishing Corporation under the
title "Plagiarism and the Culture War." Regarding the publishers
who rejected his original book and the new edition, Pappas says
three of them said any criticism of King would be in "bad taste"
because "King isn't around to defend himself." Pappas notes that
such an approach would mean the end of historical studies and
scholarship in general. He points out that such an attitude
hasn't stopped various so-called "scholars" and academics from
defaming one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.
Apparently it's all right to bad-mouth Jefferson; after all, he
was a white European male. But King, a black civil rights
leader, has to be spared any criticism. This is the double-
standard that infects the media today. . . .
Prof. Trout of the University of Montana -- a fitting name for
anyone who lives in Montana -- has written an excellent piece on
how a rising tide of plagiarism is now undermining higher
education. (Stealing from the Web is easy, but students can also
buy essays on-line.) He writes:

One notorious plagiarism case -- involving, sadly, Martin Luther
King, Jr. -- illustrates that some professors not only ignore
plagiarism but excuse it.
In 1991 a panel of scholars at Boston University ruled that Dr.
King plagiarized parts of his 1952 doctoral dissertation at BU
by "appropriating material from sources not explicitly credited
in notes, or mistakenly credited, or credited generally and at
some distance in the text from a close paraphrase or verbatim
quotation." A careful analysis of King's dissertation by
Theodore Pappas revealed that over sixty percent was copied from
an earlier dissertation. Clayborne Carson, director of the
Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, and professor of history
at Stanford University, found additionally that King's student
essays and published and unpublished addresses and essays all
contain "numerous instances of plagiarism and, more generally,
textual appropriation."

When the charges became public, some professors -- both black
and white -- rushed to palliate or deny King's wrongdoing. The
most bald-faced effort came from the Acting President of Boston
University (October 1990): "Dr. King's dissertation has, in
fact, been scrupulously examined and reexamined by
scholars...Not a single instance of plagiarism of any sort has
been identified" (in Pappas Plagiarism 68). Taking a similar
tack, the committee of BU academics found "no blatancy" in the
plagiarism despite the fact that King appropriated page after
page from other works.

Others tried to palliate the offense by saying it was the result
of "carelessness" (despite the fact that King had taken a
graduate course in thesis writing). A few, like Keith D. Miller,
an English professor at Arizona State University, notoriously
argued that King merely had drawn on the oral traditions of the
black church in which "voice merging" -- the blending of the
words and ideas of those who spoke before -- is commonplace. A
somewhat conflicted Professor Carson went further, describing
King's "pattern of unacknowledged appropriation of words and
ideas," which he does label "plagiarism," as a "legitimate
utilization of political, philosophical, and literary texts"
that allowed King "to express his ideas effectively using the
words of others" via a "successful composition method." And
Professor George McLean praised King's plagiarized dissertation
as "a contribution in scholarship for which his doctorate was
richly deserved" (in Pappas "Life and Times" 43). As Theodore
Pappas points out, to say that [King's] doctorate was "richly
deserved" when 66 percent of his dissertation was plagiarized is
"absurd and dishonest" (Ibid.).

But "absurdity" and "dishonesty" now often trump adherence to
the academic creed. When confronted with irrefutable proof of
plagiarism, what did many notable scholars do? In the words of
Jacob Neusner, Distinguished Research Professor of Religious
Studies at the University of South Florida:

They lied, they told half-truths, they made up fables, they did
everything they could but address facts; three enlightened
individuals even threatened [Pappas's] life. In the face of
their own university's rules against plagiarism, Boston
University's academic authorities and professors somehow found
excuses for King's plagiarism. They found extenuating
circumstances, they reworded matters to make them sound less
dreadful, they compromised their own university's integrity and
the rules supposedly enforced to defend and protect the process
of learning and the consequent degrees. They called into
question the very standing of the university as a place where
cheating is penalized and misrepresentation condemned (in
Pappas, I 1).
Jacob Neusner is probably the most prolific scholar in American
history. Five or six years ago, I asked him to send me a copy of
his published works. He did. The list was then over 30 single-
spaced pages long. He is a publishing phenomenon like no other I
am aware of. He has every right to complain about what King did.


There is a common belief today that men's private sins should
not be considered in our assessment of their public lives. This
public philosophy can be summarized as follows: "Cigars shared
between consenting adults don't count." It is always applied by
liberals to liberals. Sometimes it applies to conservatives,
unless the sins involve money, especially Political Action
Committee money taken from business. But money taken by the
Democratic National Committee from agents of Communist China is
like Martin Luther King, Jr.'s plagiarism: irrelevant.

There is a now-discarded phrase: "If a man will cheat on his
wife, he will cheat on anyone." That is my view. That is the way
I vote, when I vote.

King was right about Rosa Parks. He was right about non-
violence. But what he did to other men's wives, and to his own
wife, was unconscionable. Also unconscionable was his career-
long theft of the words that he stole for public use. But the
liberals who dismiss all of this are worse, for they seek to
make intellectual theft and adultery seem irrelevant. They
prefer to undermine the ethics of civilization for the sake of
politics and race.

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