How MLK Should Have Been Stripped of His Doctorate Because of Plagiarism

Executive Summary

  • MLK was a serial plagiarizer, yet there has been very little coverage of this, and MLK never had his status adjusted for his plagiarism.


MLK was caught plagiarizing his Ph.D. dissertation, which was part of a long-term pattern of plagiarism. However, MLK is still introduced as “Dr. Martin Luther King,” even though this extensive plagiarism has been known since 1990.

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MLK’s History of Plagiarism

It was amazing to learn that MLK was a serial plagiarizer and that the evidence is extensive of his plagiarism while also barely seeing coverage or common knowledge of this topic. MLK’s plagiarism is explained in the following quotation.

In 1991, Boston University did not revoke Martin Luther King’s 1955 Ph.D. after a committee of scholars found that he had copied major portions of his doctoral thesis, but in good faith “the committee did recommend that a letter stating its finding be placed with the official copy of Dr. King’s dissertation in the university’s library” (New York Times, Oct. 11, 1991). Without any similar action on Roots, the Pulitzer Board will persist in allowing its prestigious imprimatur to sell a perversion of black history—e.g., the sole blurb on the cover of Da Capo Press’s reprint is “THE PULITZER PRIZE WINNER.” – History Network

After learning this, I found other quotations on MLK’s plagiarism. However, one of the first things that came to mind was that he was the product of affirmative action.

MLK and Affirmative Action

King was unquestionably a smart guy, but he maintained just a C+ average during his undergraduate days at Morehouse College (a black institution). He was considered an academic underachiever in Atlanta. So it is curious that he immediately became an A- student when he went to Crozer Theological Seminary (a mostly white institution) in Pennsylvania to seek a divinity degree. It was more of the same at Boston University as he got top grades in pursuit of a Ph.D. He graduated from Crozer in 1951 and BU in 1955. Some critics/enemies have all but accused the latter two schools of pampering King, doing so out of white guilt and an early version of “affirmative action.” – Richard Pennington

This brings up how King was accepted into a master’s program if he was only a C+ student. And the fact that MLK plagiarized his dissertation is evidence that he could not come up with his own ideas. Another plagiarizer, Joe Biden, is very obviously a person who would need to plagiarize as its apparent when he speaks that he has an average intellect.

Who Plagiarizes?

People who plagiarize have average intellect but aspire to be something more. They want to know as experts in a domain but are unwilling to invest the time and effort or lack the mental abilities to master the material. That is, they are poseurs. A perfect example of a poseur is Joe Biden. Here is an example of Biden posing in the video below.

Joe Biden is incurious and can only participate in complicated topics by skimming the subject. He wants to be seen as equal to people who can think creatively and work with concepts, which is the perfect example of a plagiarizing personality. 

Joe Biden has been plagiarizing other people for decades. He plagiarizes very well-known work and is repeatedly caught for this plagiarism. 

My work has been plagiarized several times, and in each case, it was a person who was again a poseur. They cannot do the work they would like to project to the world. I don’t have a problem plagiarizing or giving credit to others. Note how I liberally use quotations. This is because ideas come to me naturally due to my ability. All people that create know this. All creative people have to do is sit down and begin reading on a topic, and ideas come to them.

Plagiarizers usually don’t stop at plagiarizing — they are natural-born liars and make up false information about themselves. This is called being a fabulist.  

Creatives Versus The Typical Person

Not everyone can do this. If you debate different people, you often find that they have not questioned the information provided. They are not working with concepts or providing information but accepting them. They cannot move beyond the status quo because their knowledge is like a copy machine. Their thoughts are a restatement of what they were told. That is, in a way, a type of plagiarism. It is not unethical, and it does not even require copying or writing anything, but it uses the brain as a copy machine. I know these distinctions because on several occasions, I have found my articles from this site plagiarized over the years, and the pattern is apparent. I covered one person’s work who plagiarized my material in the article How Scott Bickley Engaged in Mosaic Plagiarism from Brightwork on SAP HANA?

I have found the plagiarist will come up with a story that they did not know they were plagiarizing, even when the material is copied verbatim. But the most talented plagiarists don’t copy material verbatim but alter the writing while keeping the same content.

Even outstanding students who get As in school can come up with original ideas or think independently. I once knew someone in a Ph.D. program who had a phenomenal memory. She was an A student from undergraduate to her Ph.D. program. However, she could not think independently. Restatement of information and building new information or insights are not necessarily related. These observations of the shortcomings of the plagiarist are reinforced in the following quotation, which explains King’s poor English skills as measured by standardized testing.

Even those who condemn plagiarism claim to have no idea why King should have done it. Mr. Pappas drops us a hint when he writes, “[W]e know from his scores on the Graduate Record Exam that King scored in the second lowest quartile in English and vocabulary, in the lowest ten percent in quantitative analysis, and in the lowest third on his advanced test in philosophy — the very subject he would concentrate in at B.U.” People steal ideas when they are too lazy or unoriginal to come up with their own. – American Renaissance

This brings up the question of how King was allowed into Boston University with these scores unless he was accepted under affirmative action. Interestingly, King was both a product of affirmative action (this is supposedly before institutionalized affirmative action). Boston University accepted an applicant they should not have, and he ended up having to plagiarize the work of others to graduate.

The Ease of Finding MLK’s Plagiarism

MLK’s plagiarism is easy to locate in King’s writing because his plagiarized material is of far higher quality than his writing, as is explained in the following quotation.

The King papers project has dutifully collected this juvenilia, and Mr. Pappas explains how it strikes the reader today:

King’s plagiarisms are easy to detect because their style rises above the level of his pedestrian student prose. In general, if the sentences are eloquent, witty, insightful, or pithy, or contain allusions, analogies, metaphors, or similes, it is safe to assume that the section has been purloined.

Mr. Pappas notes that in one paper King wrote at Crozer, 20 out of a total of 24 paragraphs show “verbatim theft.” King also plagiarized himself, recycling old term papers as new ones. In their written comments on his papers, some of King’s professors chided him for sloppy references, but they seem to have had no idea how extensively he was stealing material. By the time he was accepted into the PhD program at Boston University, King was a veteran and habitual plagiarist. – American Renaissance

How Boston University Covers Up MLK’s Plagiarism

As with the Pulitzer Prize organization, once Boston University learned of King’s plagiarism, they did nothing, as explained in the following quotation.

King’s dissertation was not revoked, as happened with many other scholars who had been caught cheating. Instead, in 1991 a letter was placed in the file holding it in the BU library—barely even a slap on the wrist. It emphasized that King’s dissertation, faulty though it was, made a valuable contribution to academe. His reputation at Boston University was unsullied. A plaque adorns a house King lived in during his student days, and there are symposia, professorships (the Martin Luther King Chair in Social Ethics, for example) and honors galore. BU fully embraces this distinguished alumnus.

Some people, of course, were appalled. King had committed a graduate student’s cardinal sin: taking the ideas and words of another scholar verbatim and presenting them as his own. None of this came to light until long after his death by assassination in April 1968. King’s final 13 years were hectic and pressure-Boston University logofilled, and he had other things on his mind. Some defenders—most notably Dr. Keith Miller of Arizona State University—have bent over backward to minimize, justify and excuse his transgressions. That got harder when it was proven that the closing section of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. in 1963 closely resembled Archibald Carey’s address at the 1952 Republican convention. – Richard Pennington

What King did with his dissertation is covered in the following quotation.

During the late 1980s, as the papers were being organized and catalogued, the staff of the project discovered that King’s doctoral dissertation at Boston University, titled A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman, included large sections from a dissertation written by another student (Jack Boozer) three years earlier at Boston University. – Wikipedia

And this quotation.

According to civil rights historian Ralph Luker, who worked on the King Papers Project directing the research on King’s early life, King’s paper The Chief Characteristics and Doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism[6] was taken almost entirely from secondary sources.[7] He writes:

Moreover, the farther King went in his academic career, the more deeply ingrained the patterns of borrowing language without clear attribution became. Thus, the plagiarism in his dissertation seemed to be, by then, the product of his long established practice. – American Renaissance

And this quote.

Even after he became famous, King continued to plagiarize. His “Letter From Birmingham City Jail,” is now known to contain passages he had cribbed so often that he knew them by heart. Some of the best-known passages from his “I Have a Dream” speech are taken from a 1952 address by a black preacher named Archibald Carey. His Nobel Prize Lecture and his books, Strength to Love and Stride Toward Freedom, are also extensively plagiarized. – American Renaissance

How would MLK continue to be listed as “Dr. Martin Luther King, ” if he did not write his dissertation?

Plagiarism of I Have a Dream Speech

MLK continued plagiarizing material before attending Boston University for his Ph.D. and speeches long after leaving Boston University. His “I Have a Dream speech” was plagiarized from Archibald James Cary Jr.

How The Media Covered Excused King’s Plagiarism

King’s plagiarism was not uncovered until years after his death. As an American icon, there has been a strong desire to cover up King’s plagiarism, as is explained in the following quotation.

A three-year cover-up began with Mr. Carson and his staff at the King papers project. He forbade anyone to use the word “plagiarism,” and has since written of the “similarities” and “textual appropriations” that were part of King’s “successful composition method.” Mrs. Coretta Scott King also appears to have played a role in the cover-up by refusing to release King’s handwritten dissertation notes. Mr. Carson deliberately misled reporters who had heard rumors of plagiarism, and came clean with the facts only when it became clear that the story would break anyway. To the profound discredit of the American press, it was a British paper, the Sunday Telegraph, that first published a story, in December, 1989, about allegations of plagiarism. It was not until nearly a year later, in November, 1990, that the Wall Street Journal reported the story to a large American audience. It is now established that the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlanta Journal/Constitution, and New Republic all had heard about the plagiarism but had decided not to investigate it. – American Renaissance

The Washington Post Article on King’s Plagiarism

The WP article has a curious quotation that switches between condemning King and then excusing him for his plagiarism.

His major professor, George W. Davis, recommended him to B.U. and other doctoral programs as “a man of high character” and “exceptional intellectual ability,” and the seminary’s dean, Charles E. Batten, termed King “one of the most brilliant students we have had at Crozer.” In other words, not only did King know better than to borrow as extensively and repeatedly as he did, he also was smart and skillful enough to do the work, and do it well, without any need to plagiarize. – Washington Post

This is highly dubious.

King may have gotten good recommendations at his university, but his testing scores showed poor English skills. Furthermore, those who study King’s work state that his writing is far inferior to his plagiarized material. The difference is that stark, which seems to indicate that King did not have the skills to produce writing of the quality he plagiarized.

The Washington Post does not understand how plagiarism works and what drives someone to plagiarize.

Using New Words for Plagiarism

Keith Miller of Arizona State University has already written a full-length exculpation of King called Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. Pappas notes that Prof. Miller has come up with an astonishing variety of ways to say “plagiarism” without using the word: voice merging, intertextualization, incorporation, borrowing, consulting, absorbing, alchemizing, overlapping, quarrying, yoking, adopting, synthesizing, replaying, echoing, resonance, and reverberation. – American Renaissance

Holding Non-Whites to a Different Standard Regarding Plagiarism

This quote states that plagiarism must now be rethought as not something terrible, as MLK did.

Prof. Miller says that non-whites, who have strong oral traditions, should not be held to stuffy, Western standards of bibliography and that King could not be expected to understand the demands of an alien white culture. “How could such a compelling leader commit what most people define as a writer’s worst sin?” he asks; “The contradiction should prompt us to rethink our definition of plagiarism.” Since Martin Luther King did it, it must be all right. – American Renaissance

This is also found in the Washington Post article.

Both Miller’s analyses and the discoveries of the King Papers Project will in the years ahead increasingly point us towards the understanding that King was more the product of the black oral tradition in which he grew up than he was shaped by the philosophical texts to which he was exposed in school. As L. Harold DeWolf, King’s principal adviser at B.U., put it in 1968, King “did not learn from his professors his convictions about civil rights nor his easy assumption of personal equality with any man. – Washington Post

Those from a black oral tradition cannot be held accountable for plagiarism, which is the logic presented.

MLK’s Family’s Plagiarism Hypocrisy

It is amazing to see the defenses used to excuse MLK’s continual lifetime plagiarism contrasted with MLK’s family’s enforcement of copyright on MLK’s writings and speeches. This is explained in the following quotation.

When documentary filmmaker Orlando Bagwell was making Citizen King, a 2004 documentary that covers the years between the March on Washington and King’s assassination in 1968, he didn’t have trouble with the archival houses, photographers, or people who worked with King, he said during a 2004 conference. He ran into trouble with King’s estate. “It got kind of ugly for a while,” he said.

He tells Mother Jones that as a documentarian who deals constantly with historical footage, he’s stuck in an odd position. “Dr. King died young and his family and his children rightfully feel that they have a right to some of his writings and his words and his image, and I don’t really have a problem with their interest in getting some sort of return on that,” he says. At the same time, the speech is an “important public document that represents a very clear moment in history that people want to reference on a regular basis.”

King’s own heirs have been at war with each other and close friends in the past few years, suing each other as they each try to claim ownership over rights that they don’t want others to have. – Mother Jones

And this gets into the next topic of the extreme level of copyright enforcement on MLK’s materials by his family.

We’ve covered how Martin Luther King Jr.’s heirs have a long and unfortunate history of being over-aggressive enforcers of the intellectual property of their father — not for the good of society and civil rights, but rather for revenue maximization. At times it’s reached ridiculous levels, and the latest is that the famed singer Harry Belafonte is now suing MLK’s heirs after they’ve spent years blocking his attempt to sell (for charity) some documents that Belafonte received from King and King’s wife. King’s heirs argue that Belafonte got these documents through questionable means and they belong to the estate. The details suggest, yet again, that this is just yet another fight where the King heirs are so focused on ownership that they don’t seem to care about anything else. – Tech Dirt

MLK’s Family Copyrights the Work of Other Writers

MLK’s speeches that he copyrighted and for which his family has enforced copyright are not his own words but stolen from other far more talented thinkers. Therefore, MLK’s family does appear to agree there is something called plagiarism, but it was not when MLK did it.

Furthermore, MLK’s family believed that since MLK was such a popular figure and the plagiarized work became much better known as MLK, the copyright belongs to MLK, not to those who created the work.

Moreover, it is clear that King did not take from others because he thought ideas and words were common property. He copyrighted the “I Have a Dream” speech, pilferings and all, and vigorously defended it against unauthorized use. King’s estate continues to enforce the copyright. Only last year, in a paroxysm of adulation, USA Today printed the full text of the speech, beginning on the front page. The estate sued. – American Renaissance

The hypocrisy of this position is draw-dropping. Think it through: MLK is allowed to copyright the material of others.

So when blacks are caught plagiarizing or stealing other people’s work, they claim they come from an “oral tradition” and can’t be held accountable for plagiarism. However, they push copyright enforcement to ludicrous levels to make money on something. So it is black hypocrisy that is so shocking.


MLK plagiarized throughout his life, and his graduate degree papers were plagiarized from other sources. However, it did not diminish his legacy and is not generally known by the public. He was routinely referred to as “Dr” when his graduate degrees were falsified, and he only had them because he was not caught. If not for plagiarism, it is unlikely that MLK would possess any graduate degrees. 

This illustrates that in white societies, blacks can plagiarize and be allowed to get away with it. Whites will not call out blacks who plagiarize, and plagiarism is not even a concept to blacks. As you can see, MLK’s plagiarism was excused because, being black, he came from a culture with “a strong oral rather than written tradition.” MLK’s plagiarism and the excuses made for it are even more absurd because MLK’s family sued to enforce copyright on material that MLK plagiarized.