And now comes Rev Michael Eric Dyson to defend Martin Luther King’s plagiarism.
The facts can be summarized rather succinctly. (Numbers in parentheses are page number in Dyson’s book.) Starting in undergraduate college, King’s trial sermon was “greatly dependent on a sermon of a well-known white minister” (144). At Crozer Seminary, “citation habits continued to be sloppy” (145).
Throughout his Boston University career, it is now evident that King plagiarized large portions of his course papers and his dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” completed in 1955. King plagiarized the two principal subjects of his dissertation, but the bulk of his theft concentrated on large portions of Jack Boozer’s dissertation, “The Place of Reason in Paul Tillich’s Conception of God,” written just three years before King’s thesis and supervised by L. Harold DeWolf, King’s major adviser (145).
Then, King’s speeches and sermons also, ahem, “borrowed” heavily from others, chiefly liberal white preachers.
Rev Dyson defends King along these lines:
1. As to the speeches, the borrowings are customary, and included the personal touch — analogous to what a jazz musician does with musical licks (143).
2. Utilitarianism: “A greater good was served by King’s having used the words of others than might otherwise have been accomplished had he not done so” (144).
3. Copying was poetic justice – it used “orthodox liberal ideas to undermine orthodox racial beliefs” (144).
4. Negroes are just academically inferior: what could you expect? At least, that is the only way I can figure to interpret this passage: “The racial climate that made race a scholarly taboo and encouraged the embrace of already validated European subject matter might have been the predicate for his plagiarism. The aversion to write about race was not accidental, but reflected the dilemma that all black students faced: if they wrote about race, they risked being pigeon-holed or stereotyped; if they avoided it, they risked failing to develop critical resources to combat arguments about black inferiority” (150).
Obviously, these are weak arguments and I won’t tire the reader with hashing over the obvious. (Number 2 is particularly delicious: what other thief, liar, or cheat would not make the same argument?) Dyson himself mainly wants to exonerate for the speeches and sermons, and grudgingly concedes that the dissertation plagiarism is troubling.
Now is the time for some honesty. Negroes love to say “DOCTOR King,” because it feels empowering to have a leader that worked his way through whitey’s system, all the way to the top, on whitey’s terms (149-151). Only, he didn’t.
The main difference between a master’s degree and a PhD is the dissertation. Yes, there is some additional coursework, but that is mostly a matter of not passing away for a couple more years. (Not to mention, King plagiarized his course papers as well.) Without the dissertation, it is “AbD” not “PhD.” So, stop referring to King as “Doctor.” Hereafter, anyone that does refer to him as such must be suspected of being a liar like King himself.
Boston University must work up the courage to rescind the degree, or it should gain the reputation of being a race-pandering degree-mill. This can only hurt the reputation of other graduates of that institution, including other blacks.
The fact that King never confessed his sin publicly, nor renounced his title, must unfortunately weigh as additional evidence against his sainted status.
This is a man that lacked even what the Puritans would call “civic righteousness.”