It is in the nature of "news we're not hearing" that we're not hearing until long after they've ceased being news. I hit into such a piece of old news today when I surfed through the pages of the "Martin Luther King Papers Project" at Stanford University. On one of those pages, Clayborne Carson, the editor of King's collected papers, says that in their research, he and his team found that Martin Luther King had plagiarized much of his Ph.D thesis
and his other academic writings. King had extensively copied material, often verbatim, from a fellow doctoral student at Boston University, who had submitted his thesis earlier. Here are some excerpts from Carson's article.
Clayborne Carson wrote:
[O]ur annotation research produced findings that, in the view of some, undermined King's historical reputation. Our discovery of extensive plagiaries in King's academic papers affected every aspect of our work by raising new questions about the biographical and historical significance of many of the documents we had selected for inclusion. [...]
Although we discovered the first indication of plagiarism in 1988, we kept the information within the project until staff members could determine the extent of the "problem." The search for plagiaries in King's dissertation and dozens of his academic papers required careful textual analysis, involving the examination of thousands of pages of potential source texts. When the editors concluded that the issue of plagiarism would require revisions in the project's research strategy and publication schedule, we began discussing our options with persons outside the project. One evening in September 1989, 1 met with Mrs. Coretta Scott King at her home to inform her of our findings, and, the following month, I met at the King Center with members of the projects advisory board. At these meetings, the editors proposed that the plagiarism issue be discussed fully in a scholarly article that would appear before the publication of the initial volume of the King papers. The editors hoped that this plan would enable us to release a statement on our plagiarism discovery while also allowing us to delay publication of the first volume until we had completed the vast amount of annotation research that the discovery made necessary. [...]
Our efforts to control the initial release of news regarding the plagiarism finding came to an end when a reporter for the Wall Street journal began investigating a lead about the plagiarism finding. When others in the news media gave prominence to the story, some critics immediately challenged our motives.-' Were we trying to harm King's reputation? Had we delayed releasing our findings in order to protect King? We tried as best we could to defend ourselves by explaining that our objective "was not to determine whether King violated academic rules [but] to assemble evidence regarding the provenance of King's papers and to make this evidence available to readers of our edition." We knew, however, that our task involved determining the significance as well as the extent of King's plagiaries, and thus we were forced to confront some of the questions mentioned above. [...]
When our research was published in June 1991 in the Journal of American History, the article made clear that King's plagiarism was a general pattern evident in nearly all of his academic writings. Although the plagiaries in the dissertation were less egregious than the press reports had suggested, they were more extensive throughout King's papers than had been reported. We found that instances of textual appropriation can be seen in his earliest extant writings as well as his dissertation. The pattern is also noticeable in his speeches and sermons throughout his career.
Whatever else this is, it is very interesting news to me. I'm sure I didn't read about it in the early 1990s, when Carson first discovered King's pervasive plagiarism, and when the story should have made a big splash. Carson says the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers reported the story. But did any of you catch the news at the time? Am I totally dense for having missed it?