Plagiarism and the Culture War: The Writings of MLK Jr.

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Ronny Koch

Jan 19, 2022, 6:30:02 AM1/19/22
by Daniel J. Flynn of

“Three death threats, one left hook to the jaw, 40 rejections
from 40 publishers in 40 months, and a sold-out first edition.”

– Theodore Pappas

“Plagiarism and the Culture War is written with a sobriety that
is essential to effectively discussing such sensitive topics as
race and the shortcomings of a martyred hero. While
hagiographers may shout ‘racism’ at any hint of imperfection
attributed to the slain civil rights leader, Pappas’ courageous
work assures that they can no longer continue this smokescreen
with any legitimacy.”

– Campus Report

The Academic Cover-up of the King Plagiarism Story

Denizens of the campuses are fond of invoking the buzzword,
“diversity.” The frequency and carelessness with which the term
is used has obliterated any stable definition of this once
seemingly benign word. For those unfamiliar with campus
newspeak, the word “diversity” conjured up thoughts of variety
and difference. When academics talk about diversity, however,
the term is most often used as a euphemism for conformity.

At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, an appreciation
of diversity (o the academic variety) translates into a history
department that houses 49 registered Democrats and one
Republican. A fairly recent study gave Democrats a 22 to 2 among
Stanford’s historians. The University of Colorado-Boulder is
similarly inclined toward diversity, putting forth 27 history
professors enrolled in the Democratic Party and zero in the GOP.
Cornell and Dartmouth shout Republican history faculty members
as well, with 29 and 10 Democrats, respectively.

This Alice-in-Wonderland concept of diversity often leads to the
promotion of ideas of dubious scholarship. A “gay” Lincoln,
Africans discovering the Americas, and special “women’s ways of
knowing” are just a few ideas that are given much credence in
higher education. While much of what is taught in America’s
lecture halls is certainly disturbing, a more serious affront to
legitimate scholarship is academia’s sins of omission. The level-
headed will always dismiss what is frivolous and included in the
curriculum. What is sound and excluded will never even make it
to the realm of debate.

One such omission is the painful work of Theodore Pappas
unveiling Martin Luther King as an habitual plagiarist. As
Pappas notes in Plagiarism and the Culture War, “No one suffers
the pangs and arrows of outrageous fortune like the exposer of a
famous plagiarist, for it is he, not the sinner and certainly
not the sin, who becomes the center of debate, the target of
abuse, and the victim of the hot and harsh lights of public

And suffer Pappas has. Since exposing King as a plagiarist in
1990, Pappas notes that he has received numerous threatening
letters, “most of them postmarked from university towns.” He’s
been the object of insult amongst King partisans (even to the
point of being assaulted.) And Plagiarism and the Culture War
was rejected by 40 publishing houses before being releases in
July. As one publisher, explained, “I recommend against
publishing this book, because such honesty and truth-telling
could only be destructive.”

The evidence laid out by Pappas of King’s plagiarism is
irrefutable. His Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Nobel Prize
Lecture, and “I have a Dream” address before a crowd of 250,000
in 1963 all contained significant portions taken from other
sources. Pappas’ analyses of King’s Boston University theology
dissertation, which takes up the bulk of the book, reveals
dozens of passages stolen from the dissertation of Jack Boozer,
and BU doctoral candidate who was awarded his Ph.D. in theology
just a few years before king. One such passage reads,

“Correlation means the correspondence of data in the sense of a
correspondence between religious symbols and that which is
symbolized by them. It is upon the assumption of this
correspondence that all utterances about God’s nature are made.
This correspondence is actual in the logos nature of God and the
logos nature of man.

A reading of Boozer’s original paragraph shows a difference only
of an insertion of hyphens between the words “logos” and
“nature,” making any side-by-side comparison of the two passages
a waste of space. More than half of King’s dissertation – like
the aforementioned example – reads like a near copy of Boozer’s

The “conjoining of different sections of Boozer’s dissertation
could not have been done without great circumspection and
forethought,” notes Pappas, so “it gives lie to the notion that
King somehow plagiarized unintentionally.” Pappas further
discounts claims that King was unaware he had engaged in any
wrongdoing by observing that he had spent seven years in post-
secondary education, had taken a thesis-writing course, and had
been warned by an advisor that his paper nearly quoted another
work without attribution.

Many readers might wonder why King, an intelligent and capable
man, would cheat his way to a Ph.D. Of more relevance is the
question of why faculty let him do it. King’s doctoral advisor
also played the same role with Jack Boozer. He approved Boozer’s
paper in 1952 and just three years later stamped his imprimatur
on King’s purloined dissertation.

Nearly four decades later, when confronted with the same chance
to redeem itself in the wake of the plagiarism charges, BU chose
to cover-up once again. Then acting BU President John Westling
labeled the story “false,” claiming that the paper had “been
scrupulously examined and reexamined by scholars,” resulting in
the discovery of “Not a single instance of plagiarism.”

Clayborne Carson, editor of the federally-funded King Papers
Project at Stanford University, chose obfuscation over truth as
well. Carson sat on the information and denied early reports of
the preacher’s intellectual theft despite knowing about it three
years before the story broke. In early 1990, Carson told his
underwriter, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Like
him, the NEH didn’t think it necessary to disclose this
inconvenient information to the American public.

When it became obvious that King did, in fact, regularly
plagiarize, his academic cheerleaders chose to redefine
plagiarism rather then reassess the Baptist preacher. For
Arizona State University Professor Keith Miller, King’s
unattributed use of other scholars’ work is “synthesizing,”
“alchemizing,” “incorporations, “intertexulaizations,”
everything but the “p” word. “How could such a compelling leader
commit what most people define as a writer’s worst sin”? asked
Miller. “The contradiction should prompt us to rethink our
definition of plagiarism.”

While shameless intellectuals peddle baseless allegations about
the marital fidelity of Dwight Eisenhower or spin tales of
Thomas Jefferson begetting slave offspring, they consider it
blasphemy to honestly assess the plagiarism of Martin Luther
King. There are literally hundreds of books about King, yet one
would be hard pressed to find even a handful that address the
plagiarism question. With so much redundancy within this cottage
industry of publishing, one would think that authors would jump
at the chance to examine an unexplored facet of their subject’s
life – not so!

It would be wrong to think “plagiarist” every time one reflects
on the life of Martin Luther King. The Baptist minister led a
movement which secured voting rights for millions of Americans
deprived of suffrage and drastically reduced the amount of
racial discrimination present in the United States. Questions of
plagiary, adultery, and demagoguery (e.g., he labeled the
philosophy of Barry Goldwater, “Hitlerism”), are secondary.

Plagiarism and the Culture War is written with a sobriety that
is essential to effectively discussing such sensitive topics as
race and the shortcomings of a martyred hero. While
hagiographers may shout “racism” at any hint of imperfection
attributed to the slain civil rights leader, Pappas’ courageous
work assures that they can no longer continue this smokescreen
with any legitimacy.

“Our immense debt to the man and our respect for his memory do
not,” Pappas writes, “provide the slightest excuse for a
political agenda that credits him with virtues that he did not
have and successes that he did not achieve.”

Plagiarism and the Culture War uncovers what rational observers
have known about Martin Luther King for decades: that the man
canonized by the academic left was, merely a man. What it tells
us about intellectuals more concerned with “diversity” than
truth is far more revealing.

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