A Kamala Harris anecdote from a pre-election October profile appears to be plagiarized from a 1965 Martin Luther King, Jr. interview, a side-by-side comparison shows.
In an interview with Elle, Harris recalled how, as a toddler, she joined her parents in an Oakland civil rights march. “The woman who will become vice president on the fight for justice and freedom she’s been waging since birth,” the piece’s sub headline reads.
“My mother tells the story about how I’m fussing,” Harris told the magazine. “And she’s like, ‘Baby, what do you want? What do you need?’ And I just looked at her and I said, ‘Fweedom.’”
The story, however, appears too good to be true when compared to a 1965 interview that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to Playboy. Speaking to journalist Alex Haley, MLK recalled a civil rights march in Birmingham, Ala., in which a young black girl told a white police officer that she wanted “fee-dom.”
“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,’” King says in the interview. “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.”
— Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) January 4, 2021
While it’s unclear whether Harris embellished the story herself or was simply repeating what her mother told her — the transition team did not return a request for comment — the anecdote’s prominence in the cover story appeared to slip through Elle’s editorial guardrails. Deputy editor Kayla Webley Adler, who apparently assigned the story to writer Ashley C. Ford, did not return a request for comment on whether the anecdote was fact-checked pre-publication.
Ford declined to comment through a spokesperson — who directed questions to Adler — on whether she had ever seen the MLK anecdote.
On Tuesday, journalist Tom Elliott pointed out that Harris mentioned the same anecdote multiple times in the buildup to November.
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) January 5, 2021
Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated to reflect that Harris has referenced the same anecdote multiple times.