September 4th, 2010
04:32 PM ET
4 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. beanne

    It is very fitting that this quote be used by Theodore Parker under Obamas feet, Although Parker was brilliant in the use of language he attempted to understand the Bible through mortal understanding and thus he distorted it and discounted it. He mascaraded as a Christian Preacher yet denounced Christ. He was perhaps, the first progressive although they did not have that term pegged yet. He, infact, is much like Obama. I am sure...no I am positive when the next President moves in to that office in 2013 the first thing they will do is get a new rug.....pehaps one that had".We The people of the United states"....written upon it...

    September 4, 2010 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  2. Jerry in NC

    Hmmmmmmmm........isn't it a coincidence that CNN print this meaningless story about an alleged misquote on a damned rug, the day after the story about how the LIAR, Beck, tried to mislead thousands with a blatant lie????? Seems to me, if Dr. King was known to paraphrase Parker, and the the wording on the rug is NOT the exact quote from Parker.....could it be that the wording on the rug is the words Dr. King used in a speech??????DUHHHHHHHHHH, then it IS a quote from Dr. King! This kind of crap ain't news! It's friggin nitpicking!

    September 4, 2010 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  3. Andrew

    It looks like Professor Obama didn't do his homework.

    September 4, 2010 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  4. barry

    I didn't know that Rev. King or Theodore Parker ever held the office of President of The United States.

    September 4, 2010 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  5. SQZ

    So what's the news here? The administration set out to revise history in the first place.

    September 4, 2010 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  6. Deborah

    Why are remodeling the White House when there are so many people in this country who cant afford to put food on their table? Did we really need new Presidential rug? If it is suppose to be a "Presidential rug" why are you including a quot from someone who has never been a president?
    Why did you fill in the swimming pool to make a basketball court? I'm sure there is plenty of room on the grounds for one, but then again why are you spending our hard earned tax money?

    September 4, 2010 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  7. MikeH

    Oh yes CNN, let's ignore Jan Brewer lying, Sharon Angle lying, Haley Barbour lying, Sarah Palin lying, Bobbi Jindal lying, and on and on, but let's make up news about Obama's oval office rug.

    CNN, tool for RepubliKlan facists.

    September 4, 2010 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  8. Zen

    In point of fact, Saint Michael King was a plagiarist, both in his doctoral dissertation and in his speeches.

    September 4, 2010 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  9. Sally

    My question is: did Obama even see this rug in the planning stages? Did he approve the quotes? Who was responsible for finding them? This is a stupid mistake, and I'd love to know who was proofing it.

    September 4, 2010 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  10. Abraham McSwain

    MLK was a notorious plagiarist, so maybe the quote is appropriate after all.

    September 4, 2010 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  11. Clyde

    I thought kenyaboy made that quote – aren't all words of wisdom coming from only his cakehole these days?

    September 4, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  12. S. C. C.

    You all just can't accept an African American as president.
    So President Obama is a bad person because he gives credit to
    Dr. King.
    Many people believed it was an original.

    First you did not want him to makeover the oval office – as other
    presidents have done and now you condemn our president for
    adding a quote by the icon of the Civil Rights Movement.

    I had no idea that the Washington Post hated President
    Obama so much.

    September 4, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  13. Independent

    Enough already!!!! I can't believe you won't leave this alone...

    This is so important....I think not....

    It's his office and if he likes it that is all that counts..

    September 4, 2010 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  14. Da Professor

    I have no idea where the quote came from, do not care, but I like it.

    Here is a quote that the "birthers" missed – – – (From the translator that was there when the right wing extremist interviewed Obama's grandmother in Kenya) – – – "SHE NEVER SAID THAT"

    But the columnist from the right wing newspaper nevertheless wrote that grandma (she does not speak one word of English) said that she was there in Kenya when Obama was born there.

    AH YES the right wing extremists are not bothered by facts. They will lie their fool heads off.

    September 4, 2010 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  15. Bob of Lompoc

    You media types have climbed on the "hate Obama" bandwagon. Make for good press for you and money in the pockets of the owners of your jobs. What's it like to be so beholding?

    Next stop: The Presidential bathroom. Might win a Pulitzer if can determine whether he uses Soft Tissue, or a roll from some Dollar Store. At least your not frying hamburgers. But then again you can't. Those folks areb honorable – you don't qualify.

    September 4, 2010 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  16. Gerjoi

    Don't why they even bothered to remodel – it will have to be done again in 2012!!!

    September 4, 2010 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  17. James in Columbus

    "Just words" eh Barack. LOL

    September 4, 2010 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  18. Al

    Yeah, but it's a far cry from "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again!"

    September 4, 2010 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    It's good to know that reporters and bloggers are now reinforcing their facts with Wikipedia. Additionally, there is nothing wrong with quoting MLK's paraphrase of an abolitionist. The rug is fine. The quote isn't wrongly attributed because Parker didn't say the words as they are on the rug.

    September 4, 2010 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  20. nazario a. gonzales

    This administration just can't get it right. For so much brain power, Pres. Obama and his staff fail the basics, including the checking out of quotes.

    Los Gatos, CA

    September 4, 2010 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  21. Barry from Wisconsin

    One of the really bad things about our modern communications is the 24 hour news cycle. Don't people have something more constructive to do than comment on a quote on the rug in the oval office. The rug, by the way, was purchased with private funds – no tax dollars at all.

    September 4, 2010 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  22. HoustonVeteran

    OMG! This is the proof we have been waiting for that the President is a Muslim and was not born in the USA.

    September 4, 2010 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  23. Dan Deacon

    obama's a moron......he's been trampling the rug and everyone knows he's read the quotes. Just proof of what an idiot he is. Also obvious that it just had to have something MLK said.....whoop de do, it didn't matter the content, just that it had a MLK mark on it. Plain racism throughout the whitehouse.

    September 4, 2010 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  24. Jerry - Florida

    OMG!!! It seems these morons at the White House screw up the most basic/simplest things. Now, do you wonder why the economy, healthcare, education, employment, etc., etc., etc., are all screwed up.

    About all President NObama and his administration can do effectively is lie and hoodwink the American populace. However, most Americans are waking up and becoming a force to contend with.

    September 4, 2010 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  25. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, NC

    This is typical of the competence of the Obama White House.

    September 4, 2010 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
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