September 4th, 2010
04:32 PM ET
13 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. jon

    Is there any chance whatsoever that we can leave this poor guy alone??? Why ANYONE would ever want to be President of the U.S. is way beyond me.

    September 4, 2010 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  2. Joshua Ludd

    Who cares? This is NOT news.

    September 4, 2010 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  3. EvilPoliticians

    I am no fan of Obama but give a pass on this one. The ideals of freedom are not unique to any one person. The fact that both a white man and a black man shared the thought behind the quote is more meaningful than any nit picking critics will make.

    September 4, 2010 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  4. MM22

    And if Martin Luther King, Jr. made a famous paraphrase of the famous sentiment of Theodore Parker, who cares?

    No one whines about Shakespeare using common stories for his plays. Why care that MLK reiterated the sentiments of an abolitionist Preacher?

    September 4, 2010 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  5. D.

    The superficial level of leadership (PR Polling based nonsense, ideology before pragmatism) is reflected in the mis-quote!

    September 4, 2010 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  6. Dave

    Where is Keith Olberman to jump all over this mistake. Oh it happens to be democratic connected therefore no trying to make them look dumb.

    September 4, 2010 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  7. DaveinDenver

    Obama can't get anything right can he.

    September 4, 2010 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  8. Take Responsibility

    Another blunder by Obama and the democrats. How much stupider can they get?

    September 4, 2010 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  9. Anastasia Beaverhousen

    What was wrong with the decor in the Oval Office before the makeover? How much did the makeover cost the nation?

    September 4, 2010 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  10. JJ

    They'd have mocked GW Bush forever for this kind of blunder.

    September 4, 2010 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  11. southern cousin

    I wonder if Keith Olberman will chastise, demean and degrade Obozo for making this mistake like he did when Glen Beck made a similar mistake during his rally last week.. Probably not, liberals have not sense of fairness and are the biggest hypocrites I know. Obama will blame the mistake on Bush, the Republicans, the racists and the bigots.

    September 4, 2010 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  12. LDD

    What!!!!! The Parker quote is different from what was used on the rug...King quote was used on the rug (yes, it was a quote that was based of Parker's words, but paraphased). So if you attribute the quote to Parker, you would then say they mis-quoted King. Actually, I feel dumb for actually reading and commenting on this idiotic blog.

    September 4, 2010 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  13. Philly

    The quote is from Dr. Martin Luther King, because it is paraphrased. If it was a word for word quotation, then the source would be Parker.

    September 4, 2010 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  14. Buford

    who cares so stated the quote. it matters not to me. my world has not been shattered due to quote on the rung

    September 4, 2010 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  15. Willy Brown

    The mistake is Obama.

    September 4, 2010 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  16. WHY CNN?

    Ok this is getting so ridiculous, you all are starting to get like Fox, News.


    I guess some people are mad because President Barack Obama, added a little Soul to the room.

    September 4, 2010 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  17. drinky

    Whose mistake was worse?

    Obama: Misquotes printed on rug.

    Bush: Invasion of Iraq based on lies to appease money grubbing corporate America.

    Verdict: A tie.

    September 4, 2010 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  18. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It won't be the first mistake in attributing a quote. People tend to think that Jesus said the golden rule first. I believe it was Hillel who said it first; do unto others and you would have done unto you. There is another quote on there attributed to Lincoln that was said by Parker as well. This was on All Things Considered (NPR) earlier this week.

    September 4, 2010 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  19. Unenrolled in Massachusetts

    I see nothing wrong with this so called mistake. It has great meaning and it was one of MLKs most famous quotes. So what if he was paraphrasing someone else.

    It is truly amazing how the media will jump on every little thing that this Prersident does. I just wish they would spend more time talking about all of the good things that have been accomplsihed on his watch.

    September 4, 2010 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  20. Lee Vincent

    CNN should correct it's ticker comment about the quote on the new oval office rug. The quote on the rug is a paraphrase used by Dr King many times. Yes, a longer quote can be attributed to Parker but it's incorrect to say that the quote on the rug can not be attributed to King.

    September 5, 2010 02:34 am at 2:34 am |
  21. bill harper

    This wouldn't be the first time King plagiarized someone since he has a record of it. Also why is Martin Luther King on the same level as four presidents? What's next putting Martin's ugly mug on Mount Rushmore?

    September 5, 2010 02:46 am at 2:46 am |
  22. Donkey Party

    More public displays of hatred and stupidity from the right. First of all, no taxpayer money was used for the oval office makeover, and it wasn't President Obama who designed the rug. You people are so effing ignorant, It's amazing you know how to breathe (unfortunate as well).

    September 5, 2010 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
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