A chronology of the discovery of King's plagiarism

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Ronny Koch

Jan 24, 2022, 1:05:02 AM1/24/22
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unpublished study, found that sections of King's Stride Towards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
Late 1987

The King Papers project first discovers evidence of King's
October 1989

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
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 column.
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.
'early 1990'

According to Babington, Carson's team informs the National
Endowment for the Humanities of the plagiarism. NEH decides not
to divulge the information.
Spring 1990

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'.
June 1990

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.
September 1990

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'.
Fall 1990

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
January 1991

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.
January 1991

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.
September 1991

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 academically dishonest.


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