A historian's claims about Martin Luther King are shocking – and irresponsibleRoundup
tags: gender, civil rights, FBI, Martin Luther King Jr., David Garrow
Donna Murch is associate professor of history at Rutgers University and author of the prize-winning book Living for the City: Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California.
The Troubling Legacy of Martin Luther King, a controversial essay recently published by the American historian David Garrow in a conservative British magazine, has met with ambivalence in the American press and sparked fierce debate among historians. Armed with salacious archival material from a recent FBI documents release, Garrow has written a shocking account of the iconic civil rights leader’s sexual misconduct, ranging from numerous extramarital affairs and solicitation of prostitutes to the allegation that he was present during the violent rape of a Maryland churchgoer.
Garrow, a Pulitzer prize-winning King biographer and historian of the civil rights era, insists that a “fundamental … reconsideration of Martin Luther King’s historical reputation” is imminent. Indeed, Michael Mosbacher – a columnist for Standpoint, the magazine that agreed to publish the essay after it was rejected by publications including the Atlantic, Washington Post, New York Times and Guardian – went even further, arguing that the FBI recordings “reveal” King “to be the Harvey Weinstein of the civil rights movement”.
The debate about Garrow’s sensational revelations has prompted a compelling exchange among professional historians about the standards of historical evidence and use of state intelligence sources.
King’s sexual indiscretions have long been known or suspected; the more explosive claim in Garrow’s almost 8,000-word story hinges on a handwritten annotation on an FBI report alleging that King was present during a woman’s rape, and not only failed to intervene but actively encouraged the attack.
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