Posted on April 23, 2018

‘The Seminarian’ Review: The Man Who Would Be King

Jonathan Eig, Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2018

Patrick Parr, The Seminarian (Lawrence Hill, 286 pages, $26.99)


More than anything else, it’s Mr. Parr’s willingness to dig that impresses and makes “The Seminarian” an original, much-needed and even stirring book about King’s formative years at Crozer [Seminary]. King’s decision to go to a small, mostly white school in Chester, Pa., and study with an all-white, largely liberal faculty would have profound effects on this son of an Atlanta minister.

{snip} He lists every class that King took at Crozer and goes into detail on the most important ones, describing the courses and professors who helped shape one of the 20th century’s great leaders. {snip}

{snip} But his significant contribution is in helping us understand what made this young man extraordinary and in taking on subjects that might prove difficult to stomach for those who worship King.

Among them: King’s penchant for plagiarism, which seems, by Mr. Parr’s account, to be worse than previously known. King plagiarized repeatedly, and the faculty, for the most part, either missed it, didn’t care or decided that it wasn’t important enough to derail the career of a promising student.

Mr. Parr also adds valuable detail on King’s romantic relationship with a white woman named Betty Moitz. “We were madly, madly in love, the way young people can fall in love,” Moitz told Mr. Parr in a 2016 interview. King faced a dilemma. To marry or even to continue in a long-term relationship with a white woman presented serious risk, especially for a young man pursuing a career as the leader of a black church in the South. Interestingly, Mr. Parr says that King was more worried about incurring the anger of his mother than anyone else.


King is a serious young man, always smartly dressed, early to class and eager to please. He plays cards and pool, and he wins friends with his biting sense of humor. He takes classes at the University of Pennsylvania while attending Crozer. He studies Kant, Marx and Gandhi. He dives deep into the theological works of Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr. {snip}


{snip} “The Seminarian,” valuably, shows us how King did the hard work that changed a young man first and, then, decisively, a nation.