Should kids look up to Martin Luther King Jr as a role model? You might think they should, but that’s just because you are another liberal Frankly Curious reader with no more sense than God gave a donkey — and not one of the smart one, but one who went to school on the little bus. You see, it turns out that King was not a perfect man. You may have heard about extramarital affairs. In addition to this, King was much shorter than Malcolm X. How can you look up to a man who is so short. (Disclosure: Martin Luther King Jr was exactly my height.)
All of that might have been overlooked. But did you know that MLK was a plagiarizer?! Thirty-six years after he got his PhD in systematic theology, a Boston University committee found that, “There is no question but that Dr King plagiarized in the dissertation by appropriating material from sources not explicitly credited in notes, or mistakenly credited, or credited generally and at some distance in the text from a close paraphrase or verbatim quotation.” Can you imagine?! The man didn’t properly footnote his dissertation!
It is important at this point to note that it is because students tend to take these kinds of shortcuts that there are dissertation committees. In my experience, dissertations are not given sufficient scrutiny. But there is a good reason for this. Most people are far more interested in whether the new work is important and correct. Most of any given dissertation is just a retelling of what work has gone before. And in this case, the same committee that found that King had plagiarized also found that his dissertation made an important contribution to scholarship, which is the only thing that matters.
There is little doubt that King’s dissertation has been picked over more than almost anyone’s in history. The reason for this is doubtless good and bad. There are those who want to diminish him, because let’s face it: there are a lot of people who still don’t think African Americans should vote. But on the other hand, there are many who just want to know who the great man was.
And now we know: Martin Luther King Jr was a man, like so many others. But he was also a man who did great things. And his worst doesn’t even rise to the level of my worst. And it is in the noise compared to men like Ronald Reagan. So yes: children should admire Martin Luther King Jr. We all should. We should admire him for the great things he did. And the fact that he was a little lose with his dissertation citations and his marriage vows doesn’t mean a thing.