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Frank J. Williams: Accused of Copying

Mark Arsenault, in the Providence Journal (April 6, 2004):

Devoted Abraham Lincoln scholar and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams acknowledged last week that he"inadvertently" used the opening paragraphs of a 1957 Journal magazine story in an article he wrote on Lincoln in 1993.

"I feel terrible, mortified, embarrassed," Williams said."I take full responsibility for it."

The similarities between the two articles became apparent during the Journal's research into the history of the newspaper for an upcoming special on its 175th anniversary. Williams provided, at a reporter's request, information about Lincoln's 1860 visits to Rhode Island, and offered a 1993 article he had written about those visits. That article appeared in"Rhode Island History," a publication of the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Further research in The Journal's archives turned up a 1957 article about Lincoln's visits published in The Rhode Islander, the former Providence Sunday Journal magazine. It had been written by Kenneth B. Roberts, a Journal employee from 1926 to 1966. He died in 1971, according to personnel and pension records on file at the paper.

Shown the similarities between the opening 250 words of each article last week, Williams researched his extensive collection of Lincoln-related documents and books, but could not find a copy of Roberts' 1957 piece, he said.

"The fact is, I had no recollection of it because if I had I would have put it in quotes and footnoted it," Williams said.

Williams said he probably used the Roberts article to make notes for a lecture presentation in the mid-1970s to the Lincoln Group of Boston. He saved the notes and used them 16 or 17 yars later to write his article for the Historical Society's publication, not recalling that the words had originally come from another source, he said.

Williams' extensive 1993 article, more than 10 pages long, contains a number of properly attributed quotes and 31 footnotes, including several citations of Providence Journal articles and stories from other publications. The Roberts piece, a short story of 14 paragraphs, was not cited.

He is unaware of any similar instances in his writing, Williams said.

Williams said he intended to inform"Rhode Island History" of his error by letter, and would provide a copy of the letter to The Journal to correct the record in the paper's archives.