A Doctor in Spite of HimselfnThe Strange Career of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s DissertationnOn December 3, 1989, the London Telegraph includedna piece of academic news from the United States:n”Researchers in his native Georgia must soon decidenwhether to reveal that the late Dr. Martin Luther King,nmurdered in 1968, was — in addihon to his other humannfailings — a plagiarist. There is now much doubt as tonwhether his Ph.D. thesis was really his own work.” Thisnstory had been making the rounds in academic circles fornquite some time, but, as the Telegraph correctly added,n”The story has not yet been published in the United States.”nKing received a Boston University Ph.D. in theology withna 1955 dissertation entitled “A Comparison of the Conceptionsnof God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and HenrynNelson Wieman.” According to the rumor, King’s discussionnof Tillich was based on a dissertation by one JacknStewart Boozer entitled “The Place of Reason in PaulnTillich’s Concept of God,” for which Boozer was awarded anPh.D. in theology from Boston University in 1952. Boozer,nwho later became a professor of theology at Emory University,ndied in 1989. Dr. Clayborne Carson of StanfordnUniversity, chief editor of the King papers, quickly deniednthat there was any validity to the rumor, telling thenTheodore Pappas is the assistant editor of Chronicles.nby Theodore PappasnTelegraph, “It’s really not true [that the dissertation wasnplagiarized].” When pressed whether the charge againstnKing was entirely without substance, he reportedly replied:n”It’s hard to give a categorical answer. . . . What we’rentalking about is the question of whether there was adequatencitation of all sources.”nDr. Ralph Luker of Emory University, the associateneditor of the King papers, told the Telegraph that a researchnteam was considering the possibility of plagiarism. “We’re innthe process of conducting our research, and will be able tonreport on that research within the next nine months.” “Itnwould be very foolish for us to attempt any kind of statementnat this point,” he added, “because our research is notncomplete. When we think we know what the situation is,nthen we will be prepared to report it.” “Our reputations asnhistorians are on the line.”nDespite the serious nature of the charge, more than ninenrnonths have passed and no scholarly article has appearednand no discussion of the charges has occurred in our nation’snpress. The question is, are we dealing with a substantial casenof plagiarism or merely an instance of careless documentation?nTo begin with, it is worth noting that King’s dissertationndeals with many of the same topics found in Boozer’sndissertation, and that King reaches virtually every conclusionnnnJANUARY 1991/25n