David J. Garrow, the Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer of Martin Luther King Jr. Garrow has penned the explosive new essay that portrays Martin Luther King Jr. as an alleged serial philanderer and onlooker to a rape.
Photo: Ryon Horne / rhorne@ajc.com
Photo: Ryon Horne / rhorne@ajc.com

Biographer David Garrow has long chronicled King’s life

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with details about allegations of misconduct at Emory University. It also corrects the publication date of Garrow’s second book about King.

David J. Garrow is an author and academic who penned the explosive new essay that portrays Martin Luther King Jr. as an alleged serial philanderer and onlooker to a rape.

The 66-year-old Garrow has long made the life of King and the Civil Rights Movement central to his own professional work. He was born in Massachusetts just two years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the mass civil action that would bring King and Rosa Parks to international prominence. In time, he became one of the most noted biographers of the movement, along with Taylor Branch, author of the renowned “Parting the Waters” trilogy.

In 1978, while he was an instructor at Duke University, Garrow’s first book on the movement and King was published, “Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

» READ | Biographer David Garrow pens explosive report on Martin Luther King Jr.

» MORE: Why the AJC is reporting the MLK sex allegations

Garrow spent hundreds of hours combing through FBI files, documents and doing interviews for his second book about King, “The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.,: From ‘Solo’ to Memphis,” published in 1981.

He also wrote “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1987. That same year he served as an advisor on the iconic civil right documentary series “Eyes on the Prize.”

Garrow has also written about the legacy of Roe v. Wade and a biography on Barack Obama’s early years.

He has taught history and law at several universities, including University of North Carolina and Emory University. He was most recently a professor of law and history at the University of Pittsburgh.

Garrow has been accused of wrongdoing at the workplace more than once. In 2002, while he was a professor in Emory University’s law school, he was charged with simple battery after the school’s director of operations accused him of yelling at her in “an uncontrollable rage” and grabbing her when she tried to walked away. The charges were dropped nearly four years later in a settlement, according to a report in the Emory Wheel, the student newspaper. 

In 2000, Emory officials investigated accusations by an administrative assistant that Garrow had sexually harassed her, according to a 2002 report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was made to write a letter of apology to the assistant. The woman also accused him of sexual harassment, but university officials were unable to verify her report. Garrow admitted, however, to having sexually explicit material on his work computer, according to the AJC.

Last year, on the 50th anniversary of King’s death, Garrow shared the stage with King’s daughter Bernice, Ambassador Andrew Young and the AJC’s editor, Kevin Riley, in a commemorative event at the Atlanta History Center. At the time, Garrow did not mention or even publicly hint at the salacious details contained in the recently released FBI files that included the accusations against King.

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