BULL STREET - The art of the Con

I Have a Dream, and its not mine…

One of the most interesting highly documented stories of plagiarism is the one concerning Martin Luther King, Jr. On his thesis, that brought him a PhD in theology in 1955 from Boston University, there seems little doubt in anyone’s mind that a good portion of his work wasn’t copied directly from an earlier work by Jack Boozer. King did not even take the effort to correct Boozer’s punctuation mistakes and as if then on a roll, he preceded to partially copy the words of Archibald Carey from his speech at the 1956 Republican Convention. Inconceivably, these were some of the exact passages in King’s fabled, “I have a Dream” oration some years later.

Strangely, in the first instance King had not only copied Boozer’s work but also had purloined the concept. “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman” Was the title of King’s soiled output and with some minor exceptions was it Buzzer’s only three years previously. The same professor wrote both pieces and did not seem to notice the similarity. It would have been literally impossible for something this blatant to have escaped the school’s watchful eyes, but it did. Moreover, it has since been brought to light that King had the effrontery to attempt to copyright his “I have a Dream” oration.

Numerous thoughtful studies have been done of King’s work. Because of his stature, substantial thought was given relative to making any accusations against him within academia because of the powerful force he had been. However, the evidence was just too formative not to use the same yardsticks in judging King than those that applied to mere mortals. We thought the analysis below gives the subject an honest coverage without removing the blemishes.

“Like most graduate students, King spent the first half of his doctoral work taking courses in his degree area, theology. His surviving papers from that period show that from the very beginning he was transcribing articles by eminent theologians, often word for word, and representing them as his own work. After completing his course work, graduate students usually write a dissertation or thesis, supposedly an independent and original contribution to scholarship. King's thesis was anything but original. In fact, the sheer extent of his plagiarism is breathtaking. Page after page contains nothing but direct, verbatim transcriptions of the work of others. In 1990, the King Project estimated that less than half of some chapters were actually written by King himself. Since then, even more of his "borrowings" have been traced. Calculating the exact extent of his plagiarism will require a computer analysis, but having looked over Chapter III in detail, I estimate that at least three quarters of it was stolen from other authors.”

“King stole from the subjects of his dissertation, the theologians Tillich and Wieman. He copied the writings of other theologians - passages from philosophy textbooks. However, most unforgivably of all, thousands of words in paragraph-sized chunks were taken from the thesis of a fellow student, Jack Boozer, an ex-army chaplain who returned to Boston University after the war to get his degree. We even know how he did it, for King was systematic in his plagiarism. He copied significant phrases, sentences or whole paragraphs from the books he was consulting onto a set of index cards. "Writing" a thesis was then a matter of arranging these cards into a meaningful order.”

“Sometimes he linked the stolen parts together with an occasional phrase of his own, but as often as not he left the words completely unchanged. The index cards still survive, with their damning evidence intact. King fooled everybody: his adviser, his thesis reader and King Scholars for more than 30 years. Nor did he stop after graduation; as early as the 1970s, King scholar Ira Zepp noticed that sections of King's first published book Striding Towards Freedom were taken verbatim from Anders Nygren's Agape and Eros and Paul Ramsay's Basic Christian.” [72]

 

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