A left-wing writer and racial-justice activist who has claimed that American society was "instituted by racist ideas and maintained by racist policies" published a black history book for kids earlier this year that appears to be filled with content plagiarized from other sources, according to a review of the book by National Review. Confronted with the apparent plagiarism, the book’s publisher said it would be pulled from circulation pending an investigation.
Rann Miller, a New Jersey-based activist and educator, published Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids in March. According to the book, it is designed to be a "place of entry" into the history of the African people so readers will be "empowered to fight" injustices in the world.
Miller, a former teacher who has both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Rutgers University, also writes opinion pieces for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Progressive Magazine, and education websites, including edpost.com and Education Next. Attempts to reach Miller by phone and by email were unsuccessful.
Miller's 197-page book is divided into 39 chapters, and includes stories about prominent black historical figures, including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as lesser-known figures throughout history. The book is published by Ulysses Press, which describes itself as "one of the country's leading indie publishers." It is distributed by Simon & Schuster.
National Review began looking into allegations of plagiarism after receiving a tip last month.
While Miller cites his sources throughout the book – there are more than 400 citations listed in the notes in the back – a review of the book found that in many cases, Miller lifted the language from his sources almost verbatim, often with only minor changes in wording or punctuation. He appears to have lifted language from a variety of sources, including news organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, and the BBC, as well as from books, academic journals, and black historians.
In the book's second chapter, "The Hidden African Civilizations," in a section about the ancient East African civilization of Kemet (an early name for Egypt), Miller writes:
Modern historian Chancellor Williams refers to Kemet as "Ethiopia's oldest daughter" based on evidence proving the southern African origin of the early Kemetic people and their civilization.
Miller's language is strikingly similar to the language that black historian John Henrik Clarke used in an article in Ebony magazine in 1976, where he wrote that:
the Afro-American historian Chancellor Williams refers to Egypt as "Ethiopia's oldest daughter" and calls attention to evidence to prove the southern African origin of early Egyptian people and their civilization.
Later in the chapter, in a section about the ancient Kush and Axum civilizations, Miller writes:
Evidence of the oldest recognizable monarchy (government ruled by a single person) in human history, preceding the rise of the earliest Kemetic kings by several generations, has been discovered in objects from ancient Nubia.
His writing directly mirrors the lede from a New York Times article from 1979:
Evidence of the oldest recognizable monarchy in human history, preceding the rise of the earliest Egyptian kings by several generations, has been discovered in artifacts from ancient Nubia in Africa.
Also in chapter two, in a section about ancient civilizations in West Africa, Miller writes:
From the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, West Africa was home to the great Mali empire established by King Sundiata Keita. This kingdom united several smaller Malinké kingdoms near the upper Niger River. The Malinké are a West African people occupying parts of Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. Protected by a well-trained royal army and benefiting from being in the middle of trade routes, Mali expanded its territory, influence, and culture over four centuries.
That language is similar to writing in National Geographic:
From the 13th to 17th century, West Africa was home to the great Mali Empire. Established by King Sundiata Keita, the kingdom united several smaller, Malinké Kingdoms near the Upper Niger River. Protected by a well-trained, imperial army and benefiting from being in the middle of trade routes, Mali expanded its territory, influence, and culture over the course of four centuries
In an email to National Review, Ulysses Press publisher Keith Riegert wrote that "Ulysses Press has a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism. We are immediately removing this book, in all its forms, from the marketplace while we proceed with a review of the work." However, the book was still available on the Ulysses and Simon & Schuster websites as of Friday morning.
It’s unclear whether the book had yet been distributed in schools before Ulysses pulled it from circulation.
Simon & Schuster did not respond to an email from National Review, but Riegert noted in his email that "Ulysses Press is an independent publisher and our distributor, Simon & Schuster, does not have any editorial control or responsibility over Ulysses’ books."
National Review found examples of what appears to be plagiarism throughout the book. Some of it is slight: a single sentence or a turn of phrase. For example, Miller's assertion that Kemetic people "invented toothpaste with rock salt, dried iris flowers, and pepper all crushed and mixed together," is very similar to the language from a 2003 New York Post story about ancient Egyptian toothpaste: "Ingredients are rock salt, dried iris flower and pepper, all crushed and mixed together."
But some of the seemingly plagiarized content is more substantial. In a later chapter about "Black Panthers Around the World," Miller appears to have lifted an entire page of his book from a 2018 BlackPast.org article. Miller writes:
In 1969, Israeli activists and politicians Sa'adia Marciano and Charlie Boton started meeting to discuss North African Jews' experiences of joblessness, police beatings, housing and education discrimination, and exclusion from government political offices and positions. When they read about antiracist liberation movements in other countries, they decided in 1971 to name the group they founded the Israeli Black Panther Party (IBPP). They used the Black Panthers' well-recognized name to "make the government take this group seriously" and to draw national attention to the fact that Israeli discrimination against them was similar to the experiences of African Americans. They also adopted the Black Panthers' model for protesting and organizing.
The IBPP used the term Mizrahi Jews (Arab Jews) to bring national attention to this group's oppression. The British discriminated against Arab Jews when they controlled Palestine from 1920 to 1948. Ashkenazi (European) Jews were favored over Mizrahi Jews, who were viewed as "primitive" and savage."
Using the Black Panther model of community self-empowerment, the IBPP also addressed access to basic needs like food and clothing by engaging in creative activities such as "liberating" milk bottles from milk trucks in middle-class neighborhoods to give to poor families. In 1973, the IBPP became a political party and Biton was elected to the Israeli Parliament in 1977, where he served until 1992. Although the IBPP disbanded in 1977, its lasting legacy was the establishment of the Mizrahi as a political force with a right to speak out.
Compare that to the language from the BlackPast.org article:
In 1969, Sa'adia Marciano and Charlie Biton—along with four other Moroccan-Jewish youth living in the poor Moroccan-Jewish section of Jerusalem, Israel—started meeting to discuss North African Jews' experiences of joblessness, police beatings, housing and education discrimination, and exclusion from government political offices and positions. When they read about anti-racist liberation movements in other countries, they decided in 1971 to name their group the Israeli Black Panther Party (IBPP). They used the Panthers' well-recognized name to "make the government take this group seriously," and to draw national attention to the fact that Israeli discrimination against them was similar to the experiences of African Americans. They adopted the Black Panthers as their model for protesting and organizing.
The IBPP created a coherent ethnic identity among Moroccan, Iraqi, Kurdish, and Yemeni Jews who all faced similar discrimination that contradicted Israel's founding vision as a socialist nation that treated all Jews equally. The IBPP used the word "Mizrahi" (Arab Jews) to bring national attention to their collective oppression. The British started the discrimination when they controlled Palestine from 1920-1948. They favored Ashkenazi (European) Jews over Mizrahi who were viewed as "primitive" and "savage."
The BlackPast article continues:
Using the Black Panther model of community self-empowerment, the IBPP also addressed basic needs like food and clothing by creative activities such as "liberating" milk bottles from milk trucks in middle-class neighborhoods to give to poor families. In 1973, the IBPP became a political party. Biton, an IBPP founder, was elected to the Israel Parliament in 1977, where he served until 1992. While the IBPP disbanded in 1977, their lasting legacy was the establishment of the Mizrahi as a political force with a right to speak out.
It appears that Miller has also lifted language from his sources in other pieces he has written. In a recent article for Education Next about Black Panther free breakfast programs, he appears to have similarly lifted language from BlackPast, the Guardian, and Eater.com. The article has since been amended with quotations and direct attribution to Miller's sources. "This piece was updated June 27, 2023, to improve the attribution of material from sources that were hyperlinked in the original post," an editor's note says at the bottom.
Jonathan Bailey, a plagiarism expert and consultant who publishes the website Plagiarism Today, said that plagiarism where an author cites sources but lifts language is "incredibly common," particularly among younger writers.
"I don't know why they feel this is acceptable," he said. "Basically, what they do is the bring the text in, the drop it in, and then they edit it. . . . What the result is, is yeah, they cited the source, and they also use a great deal of the language. You're supposed to quote things directly, either put them in block quotes or put them in quotation marks."
Bailey said this type of plagiarism is so common that he was recently plagiarized by a writer pursuing a doctorate degree. "Someone actually literally plagiarized a plagiarism website," he said, "and they did it in a letter apologizing for plagiarism."
In his book and in other writings, Miller has said his intent is to teach the truth about black history, which he believes is typically neglected in schools.
Miller approaches this history from a far-left perspective, where "racism is embedded in the institutions of our society," and where white people don't want to be liberated through education, "because being white matters more than being whole."
In a 2019 piece for the Black Youth Project, Miller wrote that American society and its justice system were "instituted by racist ideas and maintained by racist policies." He has also referred to conservatives as "our adversaries" who have "installed new voter suppression laws around the country" and who "are outlawing the teaching of America's history of systemic racism."
Miller's perspective comes across in the book, which often reads like a left-wing opinion piece.
In one chapter, he argues that our maps – with north up and south down – are upside down. "There is no rhyme or reason for why Europe is at the top of the map," he writes, other than Europeans "made maps of the world and wanted Europe and Europeans to be on top." The source he cites for that claim appears to disagree: "The orientation of our maps, like so many other features of the modern world, arose from the interplay of chance, technology and politics in a way that defies our desire to impose easy or satisfying narratives," researcher Nick Danforth wrote in a 2014 Al-Jazeera America article.
In a chapter on Juneteenth – the federal holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved Americans (or "The Real Independence Day" according to Miller) – Miller writes that he doesn't celebrate the Fourth of July, and he urges his readers not to celebrate it either.
Juneteenth offers Americans the best opportunity to celebrate the independence of all peoples in the United States. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday. It raises the question, however: Will we celebrate an actual recognition of independence or the anniversary of a white settler colonial project? The truth is that you really cannot celebrate both. My suggestion is to celebrate Juneteenth.
In an article last month for Chalkbeat Newark, Miller wrote about an invitation he received from an organization to write a black history and social-justice curriculum for high-school students. He wrote that he told the leaders of the organization "that I wanted students to leave this class understanding the United States is a white settler colonized state, built by way of racial capitalism to enrich 'white people' of European descent above everyone else."
Black educators, he wrote, have struggled to "entrench Black history in mainstream school curriculums" in large part "due to white sensitivity to the truth – a truth that implicates their ancestors, their history, and their sense of self in crimes against humanity."
Ultimately, Miller wrote, he had to walk back portions of the curriculum to make it more marketable – the completed course had no "specific call to antiracism or anticapitalism."
But, he wrote, his book, "does just what I wanted that curriculum to do: teach the truth."
Miller's case comes on the heels of Simon & Schuster stopping distribution of a book by Dr. David Agus, a University of Southern California oncologist, after the Los Angeles Times found dozens of examples of plagiarism in it earlier this year.
Last year, left-wing Princeton professor Kevin Kruse was accused by of plagiarizing portions of his doctoral dissertation. Cornell University, where Kruse earned his Ph.D, declined to take action against him because his "errors were made without intent to plagiarize."