Martin Luther King’s plagiarism continues to send after-shocks. Ralph Luker has been dropped as the associate editor of the King Papers Project; his contract was not renewed last January. Clayborne Carson’s staff has reportedly been in disarray for quite some time, and sources associated with the Project called Luker “expendable,” the “fall guy,” the “sacrificial lamb” needed to get the King Papers Project back on track. It was Luker’s misfortune to be editing the Project’s volume that dealt with King’s plagiarized dissertation.
Sources also cite Coretta King as being “less than helpful” throughout this entire episode. Her refusal to release her husband’s handwritten dissertation note cards reportedly strained her relations with Carson and the Project, and one source even blamed her uncooperativeness for the Project’s delay in coming forth with the evidence of King’s plagiarism. Such excuses won’t wash. Mrs. King may be as guilty as Mr. Carson is in hindering the uncovering of the truth, and note cards may be helpful in explaining how the plagiarism was conducted, but neither Mrs. King’s cooperation nor the dissertation note cards are needed to substantiate King’s offense.
One source attempted to defend the Project’s handling of this matter by arguing, “It’s not the business of scholars to report politically sensitive information; that’s the business of journalists.” Recent history, however, doesn’t bear this out. Innumerable scholars were involved in compiling the Kurt Waldheim dossier, including University of South Carolina professor Robert Herzstein, and their discoveries were published as soon as they were made. Nor did the editors at the University of Nebraska Press lie about the evidence, misrepresent the facts, or attempt a cover-up of the issue—as Clayborne Carson has admittedly done—when they came upon the pro-fascist writings of Paul de Man. The scholarly community did its job in both instances: it pursued the truth and set forth the evidence for the world to see and examine for itself.
In fact, the University of Nebraska Press started editing De Man’s writings about the same time Clayborne Carson claims to have uncovered solid evidence of King’s plagiarism, in 1988, and since then Nebraska has published two formidable books on De Man. What has Clayborne Carson accomplished during this same time? He has received a reported half-million dollars of the taxpayers’ money and published not a single volume of King’s works—and the King Papers Project has been in existence for seven years. The one article he did write on the subject was rejected by the Journal of American History because of his lack of forthrightness with the evidence; as one source put it, Carson was asked to rewrite the article “with more of an interpretation.” The Journal has scheduled a round-table discussion of King’s plagiarism for its spring issue.
President John Silber of Boston University has meanwhile asked Robert Neville, the dean of B.U.’s School of Theology, to head a four-person committee to “investigate” King’s plagiarism. Mr. Neville told me that the committee had completed its investigation and passed on its findings to Silber, who as of this writing had not yet commented publicly on the committee’s report. Let’s hope the committee concentrated on what action B.U. should take in light of King’s plagiarism instead of stonewalling with an “investigation” into the “allegation” of plagiarism. Establishing a committee to investigate the validity of the charge is what Jon Westling and B.U. should have done eight months ago. Establishing a committee to do so now is about as useful as investigating whether John Silber really isn’t governor of Massachusetts.
Finally, in a matter not entirely unrelated, Arizonans were indeed punished for their politically incorrect vote on a paid holiday to honor King. Paul Tagliabue, the Torquemada of professional football, announced the sentence at the NFL owners’ annual auto-da-fé last March: the 1993 Super Bowl would be moved from Phoenix to either San Diego or Pasadena. Tagliabue hinted that, if Arizonans would recant their heathen ways by voting in a paid holiday for King next year, the NFL might grace Phoenix with the Super Bowl in 1996.
To anyone who believes voting costs nothing in America—think again.