White House Defends King Quote on Oval Office Rug

Journalist says it’s wrong, but White House says no way!

Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010  |  Updated 12:30 PM EDT
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A New Look for the Oval Office

AFP/Getty Images

The newly redecorated Oval Office of the White House with new carpet, couches and wallpaper, is pictured on August 31, 2010 in Washington, DC. The work was done while the First Family was vacationing in Martha's Vineyard. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

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There’s no need to rewrite, or reweave, the fancy new rug in the Oval Office.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the White House was indeed correct to attribute a famous quotation in the rug’s pattern to Martin Luther King Jr., even though the civil rights leader acknowledged being inspired by a 19th-century abolitionist, Thomas Parker.

The quote reads "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.''  It's one of President Barack Obama's favorite King sayings, and no one disputes that King said it exactly that way on August 16, 1967, at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

But then, Jamie Stiehm of the Washington Post threw a wrench into the equation.  In an article, he said that crediting King but not Parker "goes beyond the beige."

Experts however note that the Transcendentalist and Unitarian minister wrote this in his 1853 treatise "Of Justice and the Conscience"':  "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."

"What King said and what Parker said are not the same thing." Gibbs announced Tuesday.  "We certainly all learned a lot of important history." Gibbs also replied "It was not us that thought he said it, it was many people that believed, rightly so, that he said it."

Gibbs also pointed out that the attribution is not actually on the rug.  No names are on it, just quotes.  The attribution lines came from a White House statement.

The following quotes picked by the president join the "arc" quote on the rug:

  • “The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself” -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • “Government of the People, By the People, For the People” -- President Abraham Lincoln
  • “No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings” -- President John F. Kennedy
  • “The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us” -- President Theodore Roosevelt

The rug is part of updated interior decorating in the Oval Office that was paid for by the non-profit White House Historical Association through a contribution from the Presidential Inaugural Committee, White House officials said.

The fund is being used to pay the redecorating costs of numerous other rooms at the White House, including the Yellow Oval Room, Center Hall and West Sitting Hall.

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