A mistake has been made in the Oval Office makeover that goes beyond the beige.
President Obama's new presidential rug seemed beyond reproach, with quotations from Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. woven along its curved edge.
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." According media reports, this quote keeping Obama company on his wheat-colored carpet is from King.
Except it's not a King quote. The words belong to a long-gone Bostonian champion of social progress. His roots in the republic ran so deep that his grandfather commanded the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington.
For the record, Theodore Parker is your man, President Obama. Unless you're fascinated by antebellum American reformers, you may not know of the lyrically gifted Parker, an abolitionist, Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist thinker who foresaw the end of slavery, though he did not live to see emancipation. He died at age 49 in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War.
Jan 19, 2009 ... Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Dr. King's words echo those of the 19th-century ...
On April 4, 2008, Senator Barack Obama, speaking on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, declared:
"Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice...."
It is fitting that we remember Dr. King by considering this favorite phrase of his and President-Elect Obama's and its place in our nation's history. These words evoke mystic chords of memory, stretching back to the dawn of the American revolution and foreseeing the promise of tomorrow.
Dr. King's words echo those of the 19th-century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker. In his 1853 sermon on "Justice and the Conscience," Parker declared:
"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
In borrowing from Parker, Dr. King drew inspiration from a source that reaches back to our nation's birth.
Theodore Parker was born in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1810. His grandfather, John Parker, commanded the Minute Men at the Battle of Lexington. As an adult, Theodore Parker hung on the wall of the library in his house in Boston the musket his grandfather had fired at the start of the revolutionary war.
An abolitionist, Parker secretly raised money for John Brown's assault on Harper's Ferry and sheltered runaway slaves, even writing some sermons with a loaded pistol at his desk to protect the fugitives in his care.
The arc of the moral universe is long. When Parker first spoke of the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice 155 years ago, he did so to share a dream of a nation that few then held. When Dr. King echoed these words four decades ago, he did so to comfort and encourage those who were dedicated to making that dream a reality. When Senator Obama used these same words, he did so as a call to action to perfect that nation.
Hmm. It does not seem that Obama or the White House geniuses spent a lot of time researching what David Remnick describes as Obama's favorite quote.
Well, as Bob Hope said, "It's not what we know, but what we know that ain't so that gets us into trouble." Or was that Will Rogers?
FWIW: Based on this picture of the carpet itself, none of the quotations are attributed, so the carpet won't be sent back to rewrite.