html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: "Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam."

Martin Luther King Jr
Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967

It is all still true.


Blogger Fake Name said...

Thanks for posting this.

I think only one man alive can aspire to the moral weight of an MLK. And that's because he made this speech in 2002:

10:34 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

MLK asked SO MUCH of people and promised them that if we did it, it would work. I can't think of anyone who is offering us that chance now.

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Does it bother you at all that Martin Luther King was a repeat plagiarist? He cribbed about 1/3 of his doctoral dissertation. He plagiarized sermons. He even plagiarized part of the "We Have a Dream" speech. Indeed, evidence of his plagiarism goes all the way back to his high school days.

In my book this makes him a charlatan and a fraud. Lots of people got hosed down. Many had dogs set upon them. Tens of thousands fought hard for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But the one thing MLK is supposed to represent is selfless, morally pure leadership that was delivered and expressed through fine oratory and wordcraft. Yet, MLK stole his words and by stealing them he revealed himself both as a not-gifted wordsmith and as a thoroughly immoral man and a hypocrite--Thou Shall Not Steal.

Indeed, there is a high likelihood that the words he is saying in this clip you posted are not his own. Does that bother you?

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 8:29 -

Back up what you say. Some evidence please, or I say we ignore Megan's affirmative kindness policy.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

In all of the comment threads in the world, the one about a speech by Dr. King is the one where we adhere to affirmative kindness, please.

I was talking to Chris about the affirmative kindness comment policy and Chris told me that he'd once gone to hear a talk by a woman who was one of Dr. King's inner circle. According to Chris' recollection, the woman said that when Dr. King was assassinated, there was of course the overwhelming grief. But there was also a sense of relief, because what he was asking them to do was SO HARD, so difficult for humans to reach above.

My participation in that is trivial. Trying not to snap in a heated comment thread does not compare to loving compassion for the people who jail you, set dogs on you, burn your house down, threaten and kill children who look like yours. But you have to learn to reject your natural instincts somewhere, so I count affirmative kindness (when I live up to it) as a baby step.

If we cannot be kind here to a person who slanders Dr. King (probably among the very least of the insults Dr. King faced), then maybe we should listen to that speech a few more times.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Megan said...


Do you read here all the time, or do you follow mentions of MLK around so that you can leave this comment? I am genuinely curious whether some of my long time readers have opinions like this.

To answer your question, I am doubt that he was a plagiarist. I've read his letters and listened to his diaries, so I don't doubt he was capable of this quality of work. I would believe that he wrote in a heavily stylized manner and drew from a type of rhetoric common among his peers, so that he didn't create the form from nothing, but instead used phrases and speech patterns that others did as well.

If we stipulate that he was (a condition contrary to fact, so far as I know), he was still the right person to deliver that message at that time. I don't know who else could have achieved what he did. Even if those words were not his, he was willing to say them, inspire the people around them to live by them, accept the consequences of them and do so for the sake of all Americans. I am sure he was flawed, and I am sure that he is also what we deeply need. As long as we need that message and inspiration so desperately, I am not going to wait until a saint comes along to deliver it. An incredible person with mixed gifts and flaws will be enough for my loyalty.

11:22 AM  
Blogger billo said...

I wonder what Martin Luther King would have made of the type of stereotypes that start off with "an ethnicity.." ?

Actually, I don't.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


You have everything I've written here as a guide, and a good deal of information about my background. You can use those to come to any conclusion you want about my potential or enacted racism. Then, if it is important to you, you could write a long expose on your own blog. That would include a reasoning that people could follow and make decisions about, with links to the writings of mine that support your views. That would be rigorous work to defend the thesis that I am racist, and I would prefer it to petty taunts that are supposed to be self-evident. If you did such a thing, I would happily host a short comment directing people to that post of yours on your own blog.

But, I am in full possession of my worldview and experience on this, and I am satisfied that I am not racist in this dimension. Unless you intend to do serious and compassionate work to show me that my self-perception is flawed (and believe me, it can be done. Ebogjohnson does a thorough and elegant job illustrating forms of racist self delusion.), please do not leave snarky little comments insinuating that I am racist. Cleverness isn't the approach to take to make me a better person.

1:49 PM  
Anonymous MLK fan said...

I am a big fan of MLK, and I do not think that plagiarism makes him any the less a great man, but I am surprised that you all jumped to the position of denying the possibility of plagiarism without even looking it up.

Here's one reference from wikipedia:

Beginning in the 1980s, questions have been raised regarding the authorship of King's dissertation, other papers, and his speeches. Concerns about his doctoral dissertation at Boston University led to a formal inquiry by university officials, which concluded that approximately a third of it had been plagiarized from a paper written by an earlier graduate student[50], but it was decided not to revoke his degree, as the paper still "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship." [Cite]

Here is the snopes article it refers to which quotes the BU inquiry more extensively. What follows appears to be from a BU press release:

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. [ Cite]

And lastly, here is a quote from a longer wikipedia article on the subject:
As Clayborne Carson, director of the King Papers Project at Stanford University has written, "instances of textual appropriation can be seen in his earliest extant writings as well as his dissertation. The pattern is also noticeable in his speeches and sermons throughout his career."

He was a man, people. He cheated on his wife, and he plagiarized, whether he intended to or not.

Neither of those two things makes me value his political contributions any the less.

p.s. Meggie - you know who this is, but I'm using another handle right now to keep the emphasis on what we're discussing and not on who I am.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

First, I don't know who you are, which makes your use of my family nickname odd.

Second, *I* told you my gut impression on whether he plagiarized. No one else did. Given your cites, I'll add to my impression of him.

Third, I am glad that we can agree on his contribution.

Fourth, I think the words of that speech ring as true now as they did then, and I am inspired when I hear them.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous MLK Fan - no irony here said...

Megan - my apologies, first for using your family nickname out of turn, and secondly for upsetting you. I was reacting to you and Anonymous 10:42, and perhaps I should not have said that part.

I thought you would know me because of my IP adress, because of the citation format (which I use on my own website) and because I emailed you, but again, I should not have assumed.

I was trying to resolve the factual issues precisely because I think they are a distraction. I am in total agreement with you both about his greatness as a political actor and the importance of his speeches.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Cool. Hopefully most people just listened to his speech and ignored us.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Eric H said...

I think that MLK's alleged plagiarism does little to tarnish his actual accomplishments. I'm not sure I would be that brave in the face of what he faced. The nonviolence principal requires people with great big ones (Gandhi was another) to accept potential martyrdom. It isn't just facing the hoses and dogs, it means facing them in the knowledge that you will not fight back.

That said, has anyone ever discovered whether MLK was confronted with his transgression? If so, what was his reaction? From the material cited, he didn't appear to hide it. I bring this up because I know that some autistics may have trouble recognizing that they are not writing fresh material, but are regurgitating material they have seen before *verbatim*. I'm totally not kidding, it happens.

The next problem would be to figure whether MLK was on the spectrum. It's a stretch, I know, but not impossible.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Wow. Rev King sounds superhuman on that recording - calm, determined, righteous. I can't think of another world figure who speaks with such gravity. Even the Dalai Lama (whom I had the fortune to hear speak once, in California) doesn't have the same...well, magnitude, I guess. He has a tendency to giggle.

Wait, I can think of one person: Stephen Hawking. Same slow, steady speech pattern. Same careful selection of words. For different reasons, of course, but I was reminded.

Thanks for this; it's remarkable. Will our generation be so lucky, to know someone like this in our lifetime?

9:39 PM  
Blogger billo said...

Megan, with greatest respect, I'm not interested in "coming to any conclusion" (about you or anyone else); nor do I feel the need to come up with a rigorous "thesis" and though you're writing is often quite brilliant, I'm not sure that would warrant me changing my policy of not writing about people.

Of course you're not a racist! That is obvious to anyone who has read your blog. But I have to say that I think that that particular comment is prejudiced.

Why on earth would you think I would want to make you a "better person"? How bizarre!

Is my comment snarky? Perhaps. If so, then sincere apologies. Perhaps I could have rephrased it better. My point was that I don't think talking about a particular ethnicity or religion in such terms is very helpful. I mean, if one had said "black" or "jewish" instead, would that have been acceptable?

Of course, there's some truth to what you're saying (in my opinion): certain ways of thinking, approaches to life *may* be dominant in certain groups at certain times but that's so general as almost to be meaningless (to me, anyway). It's like if I were to say: "American culture is decadent" or white americans can *only* think in a particular way. It ignores class, history, and, most importantly, the individual.

I know very little about Martin Luther, but I think the great man was really talking about NOT looking at other people in terms of colour or ethnicity.

11:34 PM  
Anonymous Nathan Zook said...

On plagiarism:
Given where and when he received his degree, I assumed that his adviser knew that the poor blackie couldn't do the work for a real PhD, probably going so far as to nudge him into an easy path. Of the two forms of racism, I consider this the more offensive. If his plagiarism goes back further, however, I must entertain the possibility that the source must also go back further.

On rhetorical skill:
This is the first time that I've heard one of his speeches, and I don't really find it to be particularly impressive. This style is very common among black pastors. Personally, I think that Alan Keyes has this style down better.

On the content of his message:
I was shocked to hear so many lines which were/are essentially communist in nature. I found his claim that the US government was the greatest user of force in the world at the time to be an utter outrage. I was hard to continue listening past this point.

It amuses me that given his rhetoric, that the Democrat party doesn't look among its large base of black pastors in its efforts to form a religious left. Frankly, I found the speech to be rather shallow and a bit self-congratulatory.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I thought every line in it was exactly on point and as true now as it was then. I would have us live up to every one of his prescriptions.

Clearly we aren't going to agree.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Marcus said...

I'm a big MLK fan, but of course he was flawed. But I'm not married to him and I'm not on his dissertation committee, so it doesn't matter one bit to me. He was a political leader and a great one, people who look at the flaws are usually just seeking an excuse to ignore the leadership.

But we don't need another MLK. Inspiring leadership by an individual is far overrated compared to the broader movements that create those leaders. What we need are fifty million people who understand that it is deeply immoral to kill hundreds of thousands of people with no other justification than dishonest propaganda from discredited leaders. One of the most disappointing things to me about the last 5 years is how little real popular outrage there seems to be about the road we are being led down. There is something wrong with us. When it gets fixed, the leaders will appear, until it does, they won't.

At least two million Vietnamese (total numbers are unclear, that is toward the low end of estimates) died during the period we fought there, it appears at least half were civilians. We dropped three times more explosives on Vietnam than during all of WWII (Europe and Pacific combined). Most of that was in free-fire zones, not directed against clearly military targets. Our Vietnam involvement ranks high among 20th century atrocities. However, many people find it easy to overlook U.S. atrocities if they can find some other government, somewhere that has committed worse ones.

6:17 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home