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. Anonymous

    Idiots. They can't even get a simple quote right. The Oval Office looked really nice before this "makeover" which looks tacky. I particularly liked the rug that was in the Oval Office before. More $ wasted. The Dems made a really, really big mistake in 2008 in betraying the brilliant Hillary Clinton for this unqualified disaster Obama who is destroying the Democratic Party. Obama is over, the only question that remains is will Obama care enough about saving the party and stepping aside as LBJ did and clear the way to right the wrong of 2008 and support Hillary 2012??? Even if his massive ego won't allow him to step aside, Hillary should take him on, she'd win. (again)

    September 4, 2010 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  2. Brian Dodge

    I guess that interior decorators little note nor long remember who actually said what they think looks good on a rug. (To steal a phrase from Honest Abe)

    This is a sad reflection of the dumbing down of US education and the substitution of sound bites for thinking across the political spectrum.

    No doubt the right wing will use this as "everybody does it " justification for the, er, "misstatements" of Glenn Beck and Jan Brewer.

    September 4, 2010 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. Kathy

    Now let's see.....Just how would the PRESS have handled this if it was George Bush???? Just wondering.

    September 4, 2010 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  4. Randy

    Well, at least it doesn't say "Allah Akbar."

    September 4, 2010 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  5. Big Jim

    Another bitchy little (non) news story. Sorry I waste time glancing at this stuff. My fault. I will never get that time back.

    September 4, 2010 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  6. Marie MD

    CNN – do you have any word on the "you lie" rep? Seems that he is being investigated for ethics violations including various trips abroad.
    Let's see you write about him and leave the President alone.

    September 4, 2010 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  7. Debby

    I like how this room is decorated. Its warm vs. cold like in the past.

    September 4, 2010 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  8. zack

    if the bush white house did anything remotely near this the whole media world would be flipping out, snl would go nuts on it, and the john stewart would lose it

    September 4, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  9. Mr. Johnson

    Always trying to find something. Give me a break! Who cares!

    September 4, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    That kind of error was bound to happen.

    The big mistake, was redoing the oval office, during a time of depression in our economy, in the first place. That is, I suppose, one of the lessons we needed to learn........don't elect a spendthrift to the Presidency.

    September 4, 2010 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  11. Tari Torch Sweeney - Shaker Heights, OH

    Can we just STOP with all this crap? This country is in BIG trouble, and you are worried about a makeover of the Oval Office? Nancy Reagan bought freaking CHINA for State Dinners for thousands and thousands of dollars. Taxpayers didn't pay for it. Bet Obamas didn't make all the choices either.

    September 4, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  12. smintheus

    Boy does CNN look foolish repeating this nonsense: "the quote attributed to King is not really King’s quote at all". False. King said exactly what he is quoted as saying, so it's not "wrongly attributed" to him, anymore than the statement by Lincoln is wrongly attributed to him. So what if both men were paraphrasing Parker? Is the carpet supposed to have footnotes identifying anybody who inspired the speakers being quoted? And you actually tried to get the White House to comment on this? Crikey.

    September 4, 2010 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  13. walton

    Is it just me, or does the Clinton News Network seem to find something negative to report on just about everything Obama says or does?

    September 4, 2010 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  14. Linear

    Who cares?! Anything this Black man who became President of the "most powerful nation on earth" does is wrong in the eyes of so many. I can't wait for the 2012 election so he can lose and racisim can go back in the closet rather than being so blatently open the way it is today. In the meantime, President Obama, you're doing a hell of a good job in my eyes.

    September 4, 2010 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  15. Linear

    Racism*, even. Pardon the spelling error.

    September 4, 2010 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  16. Theo

    What a spiteful report. THIS is what you decide to fact checK? What about all the lies and untruths that you let go in the past week, month, year, decade? What about the WMD fiasco? The "death panel" nonsense from Sarah Palin? The many lies told by the Republican party since this President was sworn in? Where were you then? Where have you been? If you think your job is to provide quotation research or decorating and fashion advice, then it's no wonder that journalism is regarded as a joke these days.

    September 4, 2010 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  17. patrick

    If those are the colors that keep my President focused on helping all Americans, especially the middle class.... so be it.

    September 4, 2010 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  18. Tanbiker2

    All this supposed criticism of the redecorated Oval Office is just more Republican baloney. In fact, the makeover is done with superbly good taste unlike the previous occupant's garish decor. Once again, the Obama's demonstrate that they are highly educated, very cultured and many, many steps above the ignorant redneck Bushes.

    September 4, 2010 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |

    Those old crushed velvet sofas look they were stolen straight out of my double wide!!

    September 4, 2010 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  20. Chaz in Colo

    I fail to find any problem with it. Dubya redid the oval office while he was in there, Clinton redid it when he was in there, and the elder Bush redid it when he was in there. I'm sure it has been re-done over and over again. It's just that the Repubs want something else to tear into the duly elected president about. Their lies, stonewalling, and smears do not seem to be enough for them. As for a mis-quote, I collect quotes, and I know that many are attributed to the wrong person.

    September 4, 2010 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  21. Californian

    Just goes to show how uneducated Obama and his staff are.

    Simpletons who produce ignorant policies (and now rugs).

    September 4, 2010 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  22. EDL

    The rug doesn't wrongly attribute the quote at all. It is true that Theodore Parker first uttered the longer, more elaborate quote that was the origin of the quote on the rug. But it was Dr. King who often repeated the words woven into the rug as a mantra in speeches and marches. Dr. King took the wisdom of Theodore Parker, and made it concise, powerful, and quotable, and used it to help bring social change and equal rights in America.

    This is hardly anything to get worked up about. President Obama was not lying, nor did he even have his facts wrong when he requested the quote be featured on the rug. Honestly, I hope he brushes this foolishness off and works tirelessly with his economic team to help bring jobs back to this country!

    September 4, 2010 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  23. Goodie

    Please get a life! The country has better things ahead than to be obessed with everything that has to do with this "black president. You all leave him alone. He is still the President of the whole country. Like it or not. LOL

    September 4, 2010 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  24. rdepontb

    Wait til Beck gets ahold of this one! And Palin! And......

    September 4, 2010 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  25. JR

    OK, seems rather trivial to me but what do you suggest CNN, cross out King's name and write in Parker's with a sharpe?

    September 4, 2010 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
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