Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. King: Is the Dream Forgotten?

Today we remember a great American who opened the door to many minorities in this country who were not allowed to advance in society due to race.

Martin Luther King Jr, born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929 was a Baptist minister and social activist who had the courage to stand up to the powers that be at the time.  His father was the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta.  While on a trip to Germany, his father was inspired by the Catholic Augustinian priest and father of the Protestant reformation, Martin Luther.  His inspiration brought him to change his own name to Martin Luther King Sr. as well as that of his son. This is how Martin Luther King Jr. got his name.

Dr. King was a gifted student; so gifted that he was allowed to begin college at age 15 at Morehouse College in 1944.  At first, King Jr. did not want to follow in the pattern of male relatives in his family by becoming a minister. However, the president of Morehouse College, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays who was also a theologian, changed his mind.  King Jr. was then ordained even before completing college with a sociology degree.  He would go on to earn a divinity degree from Pennsylvania Crozer Theological Seminary and a Ph.D in 1955 from Boston University.   Dr. King's great leadership would take him to become a Civil Rights leader.  

As a Civil rights leader, he led many peaceful marches and fought with words against prejudice, segregation and racism.  He was arrested 30 times for this.  Dr. King would gather thousands in marches meant to draw  the attention of other Americans and the global audience regarding segregation in America.  His most famous words are recorded in the "I have a Dream speech."  In this speech he speaks about a future with unity, equality, peace and harmony among all Americans.  Some of that dream has been realized, but we still have a long way to go.  Today many atheists and humanists claim to fight for social justice; however, they were absent during the time of Dr. King. This does not mean they did not march or assist in the awareness of the movement despite not taking leadership roles similar to that of Dr. King.

Being a strong public leader, he was not immune to controversy.  The FBI kept an eye on him not only because of his massive marches, but because of alleged ties to communist groups.  As suspicion surrounded him, so did allegations of adultery.  King was rumored to have an "addiction to women," particularly Caucasian ones.   He was also accused in a book of using his denomination's donations to pay for prostitutes and other vices.  In the 1980's, a study of his dissertation entitled, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman," found that Dr. King had plagiarized someone else's work.

"The readers of King's dissertation, L. Harold DeWolf and S. Paul Schilling, a professor of systematic theology who had recently arrived at Boston University, failed to notice King's problematic use of sources. After reading a draft of the dissertation, DeWolf criticized him for failing to make explicit "presuppositions and norms employed in the critical evaluation," but his comments were largely positive. He commended King for his handling of a "difficult" topic "with broad learning, impressive ability and convincing mastery of the works immediately involved." Schilling found two problems with King's citation practices while reading the draft, but dismissed these as anomalous and praised the dissertation in his Second Reader's report... 
As was true of King's other academic papers, the plagiaries in his dissertation escaped detection in his lifetime. His professors at Boston, like those at Crozer, saw King as an earnest and even gifted student who presented consistent, though evolving, theological identity in his essays, exams and classroom comments. . . .Although the extent of King's plagiaries suggest he knew that he was at least skirting academic norms, the extant documents offer no direct evidence in this matter. Thus he may have simply become convinced, on the basis of his grades at Crozer and Boston, that his papers were sufficiently competent to withstand critical scrutiny. Moreover, King's actions during his early adulthood indicate that he increasingly saw himself as a preacher appropriating theological scholarship rather than as an academic producing such scholarship." - The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. entitled "Rediscovering Precious Values, July 1951-November 1955," Clayborne Carson, Senior Editor. pp. 25-26 of Volume II

"A committee of scholars at Boston University concluded yesterday that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. plagiarized portions of his doctoral dissertation, completed there in the 1950s.
BU provost Jon Westling accepted the panel's recommendation that a letter be attached to King's dissertation in the university library, noting that numerous passages lacked appropriate quotations and citations of sources. The letter was placed in the archives yesterday afternoon, a BU spokesman said.
Westling also accepted the committee's statement that "no thought should be given to the revocation of Dr. King's doctoral degree from Boston University" and the assertion that despite its flaws, the dissertation "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship."
The investigatory committee, comprising three professors in the BU School of Theology and one from American University, was appointed by Westling last

November after researchers at Stanford said they had discovered numerous instances of plagiarism in King's work as a graduate student.
While there was general agreement that King acted improperly, Clayborne Carson, head of the King Papers Project at Stanford where the plagiarism initially was uncovered, noted that King made no effort to conceal what he was doing, providing grounds for a belief that King was not willfully engaged in wrongdoing.
Westling said in a prepared statement yesterday that it was "impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources. The committee's findings, although important from the point of view of historical accuracy, do not affect Dr. King's greatness, not do they change the fact that Dr. King made an unequalled contribution to the cause of justice and equal rights in this nation."
John H. Cartwright, a member of the committee and Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Social Ethics at BU, said the committee had examined King's dissertation independently of the King Papers Project and "we did find serious improprieties."
The chair Cartwright occupies was created by the Boston University trustees after King's assassination. Cartwright was entering BU as a seminary student when King was finishing his doctorate.
"We had many of the same professors, we worked in the same atmosphere during our graduate studies," Cartwright said, and "under no circumstances would the atmosphere under which he did his work condone what Dr. King did. It's incredible. He was not unaware of the correct procedure. This wasn't just done out of ignorance."
The committee found that King "is responsible for knowingly misappropriating the borrowed materials that he failed to cite or to cite adequately." It found a pattern of appropriation of uncited material "that is a straightforward breach of academic norms and that constitutes plagiarism as commonly understood."
The letter to be attached to King's dissertation, Cartwright pointed out, "indicates there are serious improprieties and points readers to sources where they can find chapter and verse."
The committee found no grounds for charges raised last year that King drew his organization and chapter headings from another person's dissertation. The plagiarism, the panel said, was of passages from the works of philosophers whose concepts of God King was comparing in his work. The dissertation is titled "A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman."
The committee also found no evidence that the professors reviewing King's dissertation had a double standard for African-American students and examined their work less critically than the work of whites. "Standards were applied with equal strictness to black as well as to white students," the panel concluded. "Black as well as white students failed out of the program."
Even though faculty supervision of King's work "failed to detect the large number of uncited borrowings that breached academic norms," the committee also found, the examining professors were not negligent "according to normal standards of supervision." - Boston University investigatory committee conclusion, 1991

However, there are possible reasons why Dr. King plagiarized his work.  Due to the hostile environment against minorities participating in higher education, perhaps he felt compelled to plagiarized in order to have his work looked over and judged fairly.  There is also the possibility that maybe he was not good at structuring a paper since most of the plagiarism discovered was based on lack of citation or attribution which is a common mistake even among students today who forget to add quotations and references.  Officials decided not to revoke his degree posthumously.  Doing so would not make sense since he is deceased and it may bring charges against the college for trying to bring down an American icon.  Ironically, one of his professors at the seminary gave Dr. King a C for public speaking class!  This goes to show that academic grades do not often reflect or judge the capacities of students.  

Moreover, there was also a charge that his "I have a Dream" speech was also plagiarized as there are similar words found in the speech of pastor Archibald Carey given in 1952 at the Republican National Convention.  However, a close examination shows that both used the words of the patriotic hymn by Samuel Francis Smith entitled, "America" which was written in 1932.  

"We, Negro Americans, sing with all loyal Americans:
My country 'tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, Land of the Pilgrim's pride From every mountainside Let freedom ring!" - Carey, 1952

"This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, Land of the Pilgrim's pride From every mountainside Let freedom ring!
So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire!
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York!
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi!
From every mountainside, let freedom ring! When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" - Dr. king 1963

Despite all this, his image still remains strong.  As with any human leader, personal faults and mistakes are common.  Even the great Biblical heroes made mistakes.  This did not disqualify them from the great work that God accomplished in them.  The same applies to Dr. King.  King was eventually assassinated on April 4, 1968. However his death would not bring an end to the quest for Civil rights.  Segregation is now a thing of the past. Before, there were separate water fountains, separate schools for whites and blacks.  Blacks even had to sit in the back of the bus or give up their seat to white people.  Today that is all gone. Many African Americans have risen the ladder of success and in 2008 the first African American President was elected.  Credit must also be given to Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat on a bus where Caucasians had the right to sit in the front and African Americans did not.  This was what brought Dr. King publicity when he became the spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  He was relatively unknown prior to this role.  In 1964, he would be the youngest at the time to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35.  

In 2011, a large memorial was opened in Washington D.C in honor of Dr. King.  He will forever be remembered as a great American and the only African American to be memorialized via stone along with Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson.  Dr. King is the only American to have his birthday celebrated as a federal holiday alongside our first President, George Washington.

Though not a Catholic, Dr. King was instrumental in bringing Civil rights to African Americans and other minorities who reside in the United States of America.  He was not a perfect man, nevertheless, his personal weaknesses cannot rob him of the great work he did in the name of justice, unity, and equality for all.  Today there are still problems with race in America.  There seems to be a discrepancy with the number of minorities who graduate from school and have successful jobs when compared to the majority.  The recent killings of young African Americans by Caucasian police have reminding America of the problem of racial profiling.  Moreover, some African Americans in the entertainment business seem to propagate the view that African Americans must carry the urban-ghetto social script in order to be respected in their communities as "real Black" people.  Words such as "nigga" and the like are still being used by some younger African Americans which ignore the horrible realities attached to those words.  It seems the "Dream" has been forgotten.  I for one still have hope that we will see Dr. King's dream realized into full completion and with sincerity.

May Dr. King's dream be realized fully soon.  May we all realize that we are all God's children regardless of gender, race, or religion.


The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. entitled "Rediscovering Precious Values, July 1951-November 1955," Clayborne Carson, Senior Editor. pp. 25-26 of Volume II Retrieved 2015-01-17

Carson, Clayborne (1993). George Bornstein and Ralph G. Williams, ed. "Editing Martin Luther King, Jr.: Political and Scholarly Issues". Palimpsest: Editorial Theory in the Humanities (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press): 305–316. Retrieved 2015-01-17

"Boston University". King Encyclopedia. Stanford University. Retrieved 2015-01-16.  Retrieved 2015-01-17

Hansen, D. D. (2003). The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation. New York, NY: Harper Collins. p. 108. Retrieved 2015-01-17 Retrieved 2015-01-17 Retrieved 2015-01-17 Retrieved 2015-01-17 Retrieved 2015-01-17  Retrieved 2015-01-17 Retrieved 2015-01-17 Retrieved 2015-01-17 Retrieved 2015-01-17 Retrieved 2015-01-19 Retrieved 2015-01-19

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