Fact Check: Did Kamala Harris Plagiarize a Story From Martin Luther King Jr.?

In addition to the growing pandemic, 2020 will be remembered for the call for massive civil rights protests, as thousands across the country marched in the name of Black Lives Matter that ramped up after George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

In October, now-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was interviewed in Elle Magazine about her fight for justice.

Overnight, the contents of the interview resurfaced on Twitter. In her interview, Harris recounts a story about a civil rights protest she attended with her parents as a toddler. Users on the app began to question the validity of her story after citing a resemblance to an anecdote from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

After the story gained traction among conservatives on Twitter, it was picked up by news outlets such as Fox News, The Daily Wire and Daily Caller.

I’ve said it a million times, but somehow Donald Trump is 100x more authentic than any of these Democrat politicians.

This one by Kamala really takes the cake, though... https://t.co/KaPJfj9uE6

— Dave Rubin (@RubinReport) January 4, 2021

The Claim

On Monday night, conservative pundit David Rubin shared side-by-side screenshots of the Harris and King interviews.

His tweet accuses Harris of stealing her story about demanding rights as a toddler at a protest from an anecdote King shared in a 1965 Playboy interview.

Yo...I think she jacked that story from MLK pic.twitter.com/cuSzFCflFl

— Islamo-leftist Freddie Engelish (@EngelsFreddie) January 4, 2021

The Facts

The accusation first gained traction Monday night after an interaction on Twitter between users Andray Domise and @EnglesFreddie showed similarities between Harris' story and one from a King interview decades earlier.

In the Elle interview, Ashley C. Ford leads with a story about Harris' lifelong activism.

"Senator Kamala Harris started her life's work young," she wrote. "She laughs from her gut, the way you would with family, as she remembers being wheeled through an Oakland, California, civil rights march in a stroller with no straps with her parents and her uncle.

"At some point, she fell from the stroller (few safety regulations existed for children's equipment back then), and the adults, caught up in the rapture of protest, just kept on marching. By the time they noticed little Kamala was gone and doubled back, she was understandably upset."

I looked up to her and my father with bright eyes and uttered my first full sentence: 'Fwee at last, fwee at last, thank God almighty, we're fwee at last.'
Candace Owens

Then Harris shares, "My mother tells the story about how I'm fussing and she's like, 'Baby, what do you want? What do you need?' And I just looked at her and I said, 'Fweedom.'"

This story also appears in Harris' 2010 book, "Smart on Crime" and her 2019 book "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey."

Harris' story shared similar details to this moment in King's interview with Playboy:

"I never will forget a moment in Birmingham when a white policeman accosted a little Negro girl, seven or eight years old, who was walking in a demonstration with her mother. 'What do you want?' the policeman asked her gruffly, and the little girl looked him straight in the eye and answered, 'Fee-dom.' She couldn't even pronounce it, but she knew. It was beautiful! Many times when I have been in sorely trying situations, the memory of that little one has come into my mind, and has buoyed me."

As #Fweedom trends on Twitter, many conservative pundits shared their opinion on Harris' story. Candace Owens mocked Harris by joking about her first words.

I’ve never shared this story but my mother tells me that when I was two years of age, I looked up to her and my father with bright eyes and uttered my first full sentence:

“Fwee at last, fwee at last, thank God almighty, we’re fwee at last”.

Thus, #BLEXIT was born. #Fweedom

— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) January 5, 2021

Harris' running mate, now-President-elect Joe Biden, has faced plagiarism accusations in the past.

Reports that Biden used parts of speeches from other politicians, exaggerated his past activism and plagiarized papers in law school derailed his first presidential run in 1988.

During the vice presidential debate in October, Vice President Pence accused Biden of copying parts of President Trump's coronavirus response plans.

King's son, Martin Luther King III, declined to comment on the accusation, instead bringing focus to the importance of protests in the fight for civil justice.

"We need to ignore noise and political attacks and focus on what is really important. African American families have been marching for freedom for generations," he said. "As we march we must continue to focus on the ultimate goal of eradicating racism, poverty, and violence, which are central to achieving my father's dream."

The Ruling

Unknown.

From the evidence gathered since this accusation was made, it is clear that Harris' story bears similarity to King's, but that in itself does not warrant a plagiarism ruling.

In the interview, Harris states that the "fweedom" quote was told to her by her mother.

Kamala Harris
Vice-President elect Kamala Harris has long advocated for increasing direct payments to Americans suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. Here, Harris speaks during an event at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 23, 2020. NICHOLAS KAMM/Getty