September 4th, 2010
04:32 PM ET
8 years ago

Oval Office rug wrongly attributes quote to MLK

ALT TEXT A quote on the perimeter of the new presidential rug in the Oval Office is wrongly attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. (PHOTO CREDIT: Shawna Shepherd/POOL)

(Updated at 10:30 p.m. ET)

(CNN) - Remember the big makeover the Oval Office got last week while President Obama was on vacation?

Well, there’s a problem with the presidential rug.

The floor piece has quotations from four U.S. presidents and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — or does it?

One quote reads, “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, But It Bends Towards Justice.”

As the Washington Post’s Jamie Stiehm points out, the quote attributed to King is not really King’s quote at all.

It’s Theodore Parker’s.

King often quoted and paraphrased Parker, an abolitionist and minister from Massachusetts, who in 1853 proclaimed, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one ... And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."

While the origins of Parker’s proclamation are rarely cited in today’s public discourse, a search on even the most basic of research tools, Wikipedia, reveals Parker as the voice behind the words.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton on Saturday stood by the quote on the rug, noting that Martin Luther King Jr. did utter precisely the same words on September 2, 1957. Burton said that Theodore Parker's quote is slightly different.

(Updated at 10:30 p.m. ET with a comment from the White House)

Filed under: White House
soundoff (147 Responses)
  1. No Way Joe

    Can't this administration get anything right?

    September 4, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  2. Steven in Charleston

    Personally, I love the fact that our President considers this quote something he wishes to see and refect upon every day, irregardless of who first said it.

    September 4, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  3. Stan from Fla.

    Obama, can't even this the quote right.... More wasted tax payers $$$$.
    Just proves he's a total everything he does!!!

    September 4, 2010 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  4. Libertarian in SC

    Granted that Obama delegated this task of the rug, BUT this is a ANOTHER fine example of how thin a veneer Obama's intelligence is.
    It's also ironic that Obama tries to quote King and plagiarizes Parker, when King plagiarized so many during his career.
    Uh-oh, now I done it, slammed 2 dark skinned americans. I MUST be
    Ha ha, beat ya to it!

    September 4, 2010 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  5. Alex

    So what????? Who gives a rats you know what!!! You media people need to really get a grip. I mean every week some kind of weakness that you guys thnk you peep with this President, you all are starting to look like a bunch of rabit dogs that need a shot.

    September 4, 2010 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  6. AL Silvestri

    Well he ran on Change, right ??? At least the performance outcomes are continually consistent

    September 4, 2010 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  7. Don in Delaware

    Wikipedia also attributes the paraphrased quote that appears on the rug to MLK... as do many other results in a Google search. So the finger points both way, people.

    September 4, 2010 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  8. Tony in Maine

    Oooooooh nooooooo, Mr. Bill. Something more for Beck to get all snarky about.

    September 4, 2010 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  9. Don Crow

    Wonder how many stimulus funds were wasted on that mistake?

    September 4, 2010 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  10. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    Sounds like a Muslin conspiracy to me....lets get Glen Beck to put it on the chalkboard...

    September 4, 2010 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  11. Average American

    Nice islamic green cutains, I see.

    September 4, 2010 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  12. Sick of CNN!!!

    just anything to make our President look ugly! CNN you're fox's evil step sister! i'm sick of this hatred!

    September 4, 2010 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  13. doris

    Who cares? The media does not read history beyond at all. Without google they are lost. If it was used by MLK ok every public figure in the world has been identified with comments that did not originate with them but resonated in their hearts and minds.

    September 4, 2010 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  14. richard in Montana

    C'mon CNN is this really news worthy???? What else can your reporters find to bitch about? You people need to get a real job as you aren't really as important as you think you are.

    September 4, 2010 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  15. doug

    From Sharpton to Madcow to Obama, none of these evil Democrats knows about the great American Civil Rights leader, Republican Martin Luther King Jr.

    A thanks goes out to every Republican in America, each and everyone of you lives your life by the words of the great MLK, judge not by skin color but by the content of character. King would have loved the tea party and would have been welcomed with open arms by every great tea party American patriot.

    Let us hope that those who defy his words and mock his great contribution to our society lose their control of the house and Senate in November.

    September 4, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  16. jimbo

    The Obamas cannot even get a simple thing like a carpet done correctly...They are so pathetic and incompetent its scary... Americans had better start getting serious about who they vote for so we do not EVER get anyone like this fraud elected again !!!!!

    Now I see why he voted 'present" so many times...He is totally clueless !!!

    September 4, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  17. Stymie

    Looks like someone associated with the rug quote is about to be added to the growing number of the unemployed.

    September 4, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  18. Lydia Curtis

    I couldn't believe this idiot of a president thought it was a good idea to re-do the oval office. How ridiculous that money was spent. It's the tax payers money. Not his. So many Americans are suffering and making sacrifices as a result of the economy and he sees fit to waste money like this. We will remember this when the next election comes around.

    September 4, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  19. Roger

    This carpet is the ultimate RACE CARD of Odumwa and has no place in the people's house!

    September 4, 2010 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  20. Chaz

    Slow news day?

    Best of luck trying to make something out of this! This is definitely a crucial issue that needs to be hashed out as thoroughly as death panels and Obama's place of birth (I'm guessing wherever Russia intersects Africa).

    September 4, 2010 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  21. Dee McDonald

    The mistake is that many American homes have better designed family rooms that this "bland boring" makeover.

    September 4, 2010 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  22. Brett from Oriskany,VA

    How inept Mr.Obama! Would have expected more from you.

    September 4, 2010 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  23. Livin the good life

    OH!? Let's blame that on Obama too! NO...WAIT...George Bush...NO wait...oh, forget it already...Beau Colby

    September 4, 2010 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  24. Norman

    Can The President do anything at all that doesn't get critics jumping on him? Every president redoes the Oval office and if the quote fromMLK and, incidentally Lincoln were originally made in the 19th century they have both been used by these two men and have been associated with them over the years..

    September 4, 2010 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  25. GunnerGA

    Wikipedia should NEVER be used as a source for any research project – especially journalism. That information was found there add not one iota of credibility to an argument. Therefore, the statement in the above article was simply a dumb one.

    While I may not doubt the premise of the story, even hinting that Wikipedia is a reliable instrument for journalist and students alike is simply irresponsible.

    The simple fact that individuals can change facts to suit their needs or sense of humor or others can censor or even more can dispute facts and have them remove from entries make this site as useful as bacon at a Bar Mitzvah party.

    September 4, 2010 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
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