An interview with Martin Luther King, Jr. published in Playboy in 1965 is the longest interview ever done with the civil rights leader and the piece, by Roots author Alex Haley, has been quoted from for decades. But now, Jonathan Eig, who has a major biography called King: A Life coming out soon, says he found major problems while researching the interview, including fabrications and quotes taken out of context from the original 85-page transcript.
Most stunning, historically speaking, is that King did not actually say the critical things about Malcolm X that have been cited since then as evidence of a major philosophical rift between King and Malcolm X. As The Washington Post reports, King's comments about "fiery, demagogic oratory" were not directed at Malcolm X specifically and was spoken in an entirely different part of the interview than where it appeared in the Playboy piece.
Related: Why I Will Never, Ever Work on MLK Day
Eig found several other inconsistencies, instances where quotes appeared to be made up that don't appear in the original transcript, and other parts shifted around in ways that make them out of context.
The author told The Post, “We’ve been teaching people for decades, for generations, that King had this harsh criticism of Malcolm X, and it’s just not true.”
Related: Three Decades of My Black Revolutionary Bookshelf
If this were one instance of a famed author and journalist getting one story wrong, that would be one thing, but Haley has also been called out for historical inaccuracies and plagiarism before.
What seems certain now, according to Eig and other experts, is that this new scrutiny might open up a whole other line of inquiry into one of Haley's other major works, The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Haley died in 1992.