Martin Luther King Jr — A Flawed Man Who Did Great Things

As the nation celebrates this day dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is important to remember him the way he actually was — as a real person; a person whose identity has largely been lost to the magnanimity of his legendary persona. The story of Dr. King has long eclipsed reality; as the collective consciousness of man shapes the civil rights champion into whatever we desire him to be and represent for us. The real story of Dr. King, however, is filled with all the baggage you might expect from the tale of a reluctant, everyman hero; one who brought all of his demons along for the ride.

In the early 1990’s, it came to national public attention that Dr. King had plagiarized a significant portion of his doctoral dissertation. For those unfamiliar with the term, plagiarization is claiming ownership of another person’s words, ideas, or actions without properly ascribing credit to them — essentially it is stealing.  Plagiarism, once discovered (particularly to this extent) generally results in harsh academic penalties (suspension, expulsion, revocation of degree, etc.) — penalties that were “overlooked” due to King’s legendary status. Snopes, a left-leaning “fact-checking” site, reports:

During the 1980s, archivists associated with The Martin Luther King Papers Project uncovered evidence that the dissertation King prepared for his Ph.D. in theology from Boston University, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” was plagiarized, and the story broke in the national media in 1990. King included in his dissertation a good deal of material taken verbatim from a variety of other sources without proper attribution (or any attribution at all), an act which constitutes plagiarism by ordinary academic standards.

In 1963, J. Edgar Hoover (FBI Director) and Robert Kennedy (US Attorney General) conspired, allowing the FBI to install listening devices (bugs) in King’s home and office. These bugs uncovered a myriad of things concerning his behavior, not the least of which that he was engaging in multiple extra-marital affairs. Ralph Abernathy, one of King’s closest confidants wrote the following in his 1989 autobiography “The Walls Came Tumbling Down.

“[We] all understood and believed in the biblical prohibition against sex outside marriage. It was just that he [King] had a particularly difficult time with that temptation.”

President Lyndon Johnson was heard making a comment on King’s situation in a conversation with a Time magazine reporter regarding the then classified spy tapes:

“…if you could only hear what that hypocritical preacher does sexually.”

One of the reasons cited by Hoover and his FBI to justify their monitoring of King was the suspicion that he was working with communists (particularly from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Why would they think that you might ask? Here are a few quotes from King on the matter:

“I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic… [Capitalism] started out with a noble and high motive… but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.” –  1952.

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.” –  1961.

“The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.” – 1967.

“Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis.” – 1967.

“In a sense, you could say we’re involved in the class struggle.” – 1968.

Despite his many flaws (a pox which every man and woman bears in varying degrees), Dr. King was able to articulate a vision of racial equality and harmony that resonated far beyond the years of his life and made a positive lasting impression on the future of this country. Most of the greatest Biblical heroes had similar dis-functions, or those of at least equal magnitude (David was a murderer and adulterer; Solomon had 300 concubines and 700 wives, Moses was a murderer and a coward, etc.), yet God was able to use them to accomplish great things. Can the same be said of Dr. King? Watch his most famous speech and then let us know your thoughts on the legacy this man left behind on Facebook or in the comments below.

About Patrick Stephens 163 Articles
Patrick is the founder and lead editor of the publication. Currently a pastor of many years by trade, Patrick served in the US Army and did his graduate work at both Miami University in Oxford, OH (Social Sciences) and the University of Dayton (Theology) — earning an advanced degree. He enjoys bringing a larger historical and philosophical perspective to his projects. Also, he likes comic books.