Nontroversy of the Weekend: A Quote on a Rug

The right wing nontroversy of the Labor Day weekend springs from an article at the Washington Post about the new presidential rug for the Oval Office: Oval Office rug gets history wrong.

Writer Jamie Stiehm says these words on the rug are wrongly attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Stiehm says the quote should instead be credited to abolitionist Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, who said in 1853:

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one… . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

This has produced the usual round of grade school mockery from wingnut sites (a typical headline: “Smartest President in History Botches Oval Office Rug Quote!”).

Except that, as Dave Weigel points out, the words embroidered on the presidential rug were used, verbatim, by Martin Luther King Jr. on many occasions. Here’s one:

Youtube Video

The lineage of these kinds of quotes is an interesting subject, but it’s clear that although Dr. King was inspired by Theodore Parker’s earlier words, he rephrased the thought in a more concise way and made it his own. It’s perfectly appropriate to attribute those exact words to King; he said them, Parker didn’t, and they became a powerful signature phrase for King. As Weigel notes:

Really? People, step away from the laptops and grill something.

Also see

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