In “Revolution and Tradition in the Humanities Curriculum” (September 1990), Thomas Fleming repeats the false story that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. plagiarized his Boston University doctoral dissertation. The charge has been made several times in the last year and appears to be spreading like whooping cough among the unvaccinated. Allow me to introduce some penicillin.

Dr. King’s dissertation has, in fact, been scrupulously examined and reexamined by scholars, including scholars who are thoroughly familiar with the “personalist” theological tradition to which Dr. King’s dissertation was a contribution and who would stand the best chance of catching any non-attributed quotations. Not a single instance of plagiarism of any sort has been identified.

The apparent source of this defamatory rumor was an article that appeared last December in a London newspaper—an article that was refuted by its supposed primary source in a subsequent issue. To my knowledge, the reappearance of this rumor in a recent issue of Chronicles is the first time that any reputable journal has stumbled into this pseudo-controversy.

To set the record straight, since 1955, when Dr. King submitted his dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” not a single reader has ever found any non-attributed or misattributed quotations, misleading paraphrases, or thoughts borrowed without due scholarly reference in any of its 343 pages. If you or anyone else have evidence to the contrary, it should be presented.

        —Jon Westling
President ad interim Boston University
Boston, MA

A full discussion of this matter can be found here.