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Wednesday, June 05, 2019

David Garrow and the Duty of Scholarship

There is outrage about a recent article by David Garrow on Martin Luther King Jr. Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1980s for a biography of King, writes in the article about recently declassified FBI reports on King that made lurid accusations. (Most notably, that King stood by and watched a rape.) Some people are angry that Garrow chose to publish these charges without establishing their truth.

I thought I might share some thoughts about this. One way to understand my role as a researcher is that I am just supposed to present new information. If I find a letter in an archive contains novel claims about a historical figure, then I should tell everyone. It's not for me to judge if the claims are true. I'm simply putting them out there so that others can verify or debunk the claims.

Another way of understanding my role is that I should only publish a novel claim if I am convinced that the claim is true (by whatever standard of proof seems appropriate). This is how I typically approach my work. If I cannot verify something to my satisfaction, then I don't include the point. Now I can imagine writing a blog post that says "I found something and now I'm trying to determine if it's true. Can anyone help me?" But that strikes me as more comparable to a conversation that I might have with a colleague rather than an assertion.

I have not read the Garrow article yet, so I cannot say what I think about how he handled the new material.  When I do, I may follow up with another post. 

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on June 5, 2019 at 09:44 PM | Permalink


It will be very interesting, YIKAM, if it turns out to be true. Given the extent of the FBI’s harassment of King and the fact that if they had any evidence to support these claims, they surely would have leaked it to discredit him - I’m not holding my breath.

Posted by: J | Jun 8, 2019 11:43:09 PM

What's really going to be fun is watching liberals rationalize continuing to lionize a man who watched a rape and also used his position as a pastor to coerce women into letting him perform 'unnatural' sexual acts (that's also in the transcripts).

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | Jun 6, 2019 6:34:22 AM

Interesting. But one researcher doesn't deal with technical aspects and publication of it of course. This is for ( hardly ) archaeologists or librarians or whatever. And there is no need for one assertion in such case. But:

Configuration ( of assertions ) that is to say, presenting probabilities and the basis for it. Contradicting assertions, and let the reader ( if needed ) make his own determination ( but based upon as much as possible factual and hypothetical assumptions ).

One may reach the article here:



Posted by: El roam | Jun 6, 2019 5:55:29 AM

I was convinced by Garrow's interview with Dominic Green, the audio of which is found at Spectator US under the article titled "Did American outlets refuse to publish the MLK sex transcripts?"

Posted by: anon | Jun 6, 2019 12:50:46 AM

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