A chronology of the discovery of King's plagiarism
Most of this information comes from articles collected in Theodore
Pappas' book The Martin Luther King Jr. Plagiarism Story
(Rockford Institute, Rockford, IL, 1994). I am grateful to the
Institute for providing a copy of this out-of-print work.
The Martin Luther King Papers Project is formed
David Garrow, in Bearing the Cross, relates how Ira Zepp,
in an unpublished study, found that sections of King's Stride
Towards Freedom are verbatim identical to passages from Paul
Ramsay's Basic Christian Ethics and Anders Nygren's
Eros and Agape. Garrow refrains from using the 'p' word, and
his index calls the incident 'ghostwriting'
The King Papers Project receives the first of its over $500,000
of NEH funding
The King Papers project first discovers evidence of King's plagiarism.
According to Waldman, King's plagiarism was discussed in the presence
of his widow, Coretta Scott King, in an all-day meeting in Atlanta.
Mrs. King remained silent through most of the meeting, and has
since declined to answer queries about her husband's plagiarism.
The board decides to publish King's papers with footnotes fully
detailing the plagiarism, and to separately publish an article
outlining its extent.
December 3, 1989
Frank Johnson, in the British Sunday Telegraph , reveals
that Ralph Luker, associate editor of the King Papers Project,
has informed him that King had borrowed heavily from the thesis
of Jack Boozer, fellow Boston University theology student and
later Professor of Religion at Emory. Luker temporizes, promising
that full facts will be available in nine months. Claiborne Carson,
director of the Project, says when asked about the charge of plagiarism
"It's really not true...what we're talking about is the question
of whether there was an adequate citation of all sources".
Major American newspapers totally ignore the article.
January 22, 1990
The Liberty Lobby's The Spotlight prints a front-page story
on King's plagiarized thesis, based on the Sunday Telegraph
March 1 1990
According to Babington, King's plagiarism is widely discussed
at the Southern Intellectual History Circle, meeting at Chapel
Hill. Luker, who attended, says the story was 'academic cocktail-party
gossip' at the time. UNC sociologist John Shelton Reed hears the
story, and cites it in a gossip column for Chronicles ,
the magazine of the Rockford Institute. He later balks at publishing
after receiving a stern letter from B.U. acting president Jon Westling.
According to Babington, Carson's team informs the National Endowment
for the Humanities of the plagiarism. NEH decides not to divulge
Washington Post reporter Dan Balz approaches Carson with questions
about the plagiarism, but is misled by Carson, who admits he tried
to 'play it down'.
According to Waldman, Carson submitted an article to Journal
of American History, but it was rejected because Carson was
unwilling to 'take a firm stand' on the question of whether King's
thesis was plagiarized.
Thomas Fleming writes in the conservative magazine Chronicles
that King's doctorate should be regarded as a courtesy title,
since it had been recently revealed that he had plagiarized his
October 5 1990
Boston University President Jon Westling sends a letter
to Chronicles (published in the January 1991 issue) denying
Fleming's charge. Westling, in an apparent bare-faced lie, says
that King's dissertation has been 'scrupulously examined and reexamined
by scholars', and that 'not a single instance of plagiarism of
any sort has been identified....not a single reader has ever found
any nonattributed or misattributed quotations, misleading paraphrases,
or thoughts borrowed without due scholarly reference in any of
its 343 pages'.
Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Waldman calls Carson.
Carson tries stonewalling him, but Waldman informs Carson he has
a copy of Jack Boozer's dissertation, from which King stole heavily.
Carson decides the game is up, and agrees to cooperate with Waldman
in breaking the story.
November 9, 1990
Peter Waldman, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, 'breaks' the story in the American mass media. The article quotes
Claiborne Carson finally admitting King's plagiarism. The article
soft-pedals King's 'borrowings', and cites Keith Miller's thesis
that King's 'voice merging' stems from the oral traditions of
the black church. The article says that 'most of King's papers
had many original thoughts', but often 'borrowed without citing'.
According to Waldman, Carson has asked staff members to refrain
from use of the 'p'-word around the office.
November 10 1990
Other major American newspapers followed the WSJ with front-page
stories on the plagiarism
Theodore Pappas, in a article in Chronicles written before
the WSJ article, compares sections of King's thesis in
detail with that of Jack Boozer, showing for the first time the
enormous extent of King's plagiarism.
Charles Babington in the New Republic reveals how several American
newspapers (Washington Post, New York Times, Atlanta
Journal Constitution and the New Republic) had the
story since at least Spring 1990), but either out of ineptitude
or political correctness did nothing with it.
A Boston University committee reports that while 45% of the first
half and 21% of the second half of King's thesis was plagiarized,
it was still an original contribution to scholarship, and his
degree should not be revoked. The true extent of King's plagiarism
is much greater, and comparing his thesis with its sources, one
can only conclude that BU's conclusion was purely political and