Skip to comments.Theodore Parker and the Moral Universe (Obama's Oval Office Rug Quotes)
Posted on 09/04/2010 9:02:46 AM PDT by kristinn
In talking about the new rug in the Oval Office on Wednesday, we mentioned several historical quotes woven into the rug, including one from Martin Luther King Jr.: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." A number of listeners pointed out that King was in fact echoing the words of 19th century abolitionist and Unitarian minister Theodore Parker. NPR's Melissa Block talks to Clayborne Carson -- a professor of history at Stanford University and director of the Martin Luther King Junior Research and Education Institute -- about Parker, and about King's use of favorite sayings.
BLOCK: Well, you have brought in a part of the 1853 sermon by Theodore Parker, the abolitionist minister. Can you read the part that Dr. King then used and made it his own?
Prof. CARSON: 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 experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.
As you can see, the Parker quote is not as concise as what King made it in his own speech, and often, that is the case. When people use quotes from others, they paraphrase, and sometimes, they make it better. Sometimes they make it less effective.
BLOCK: Now, many times in his speeches, Dr. King did attribute sources of quotes. He would mention Thomas Carlyle or William Cullen Bryant. Did he also mention Theodore Parker by name?
Prof. CARSON: I don't recall him mentioning him by name. He may well have...
BLOCK: You know, Professor Carson, there is an interesting footnote here. We're talking about Theodore Parker, and there's another speech from him in 1850 that included these words: a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people, which of course became part of the Gettysburg Address. And those words are also woven into President Obama's Oval Office rug that we were talking about yesterday. So Theodore Parker has lineage to not one but two of the five quotes on that rug.
* The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, from President Franklin Roosevelt
* The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice, from King
* Government of the people, by the people, for the people, from President Abraham Lincoln
* No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings, from President John Kennedy, and
* The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us, from President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican.
Background on today's Oval Office Gets History Wrong article from the Washington Post.
“Obama, you lie like a rug!”
so if this NPR interview was on Sept. 2 does the WaPo writer take off from that? b/c the WaPo columnist makes it sound like she just noticed the mis-attribution in the rug and investigated it, when perhaps the NPR program first drew attention to the error
.... and did MLK actually cite Th. Parker as source of the words? MLK re-worked the quote in his own way, but the WaPo column makes it seem that MLK acknowledged Parker as the source, whereas the NPR piece suggests that MLK was continuing his problem of “unattributed borrowings” to speak euphemistically......
That would be a quote that should make any sympathizer of baby killers uncomfortable.
What’s on the rug is out of context and worthless....
I hope and pray it burns his feet every time he walks on it. All of his commie flunkies, too.
Such occurred a couple of years ago when reading an account of a campaign appearance by then-candidate Obama.
Does anyone remember this report from early November 2008? "At a Virginia rally - 'If youll stand with me, then I know that we can win Virginia and we can win this election and we can finally bring the change we need to Washington,' Obama told the estimated crowd of 35,000. 'I feel like we got a righteous wind at our backs here.'
Upon checking, one finds this quote from Chairman Mao:
The ill wind of opportunism is falling, the righteous wind of socialism is on the rise.
Was this a mere contribution by Anita Dunn from her favorite "go to philosopher" or was it just familiar reading which crept into the candidate's remarks in Virginia?
In the case of the Oval Office rug, apparently original sources weren't consulted, and that's a shame in the interest of scholarship and credibility, as well as the education of the youth of America, as it relates to a feature of the Oval Office in "the People's" House.
There's a new rug in the oval office, embroidered with inspiring words circling the President. Among those words is a phrase spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was referring to words first written by 19th-century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, whose works King studied when he was at Harvard Divinity School.
SNIPOther quotes selected by our President to support him in his leadership of our nation are: "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 (ALSO borrowed from Parker!)
it gets better!!
apparently Obama used the quotation a lot on the campaign trail, said it’s one of his favorites, and then stopped using it when his campaign was informed of the original source and accurate quotation:
so this issue has been unfolding at least since April 2008 as it relates to Obama, but somehow the mis-attributed quotation was brought back to adorn the new carpet in the Oval Office
and it’s discussed on this blog Dec. 30, 2008:
Here's an excerpt:
Fast forward to April 2008, when I heard Barack Obama attribute the quote to Dr. King...I immediately emailed the Obama Campaign the actual citation in the interest of accuracy. Just a point of information.
I have no way of knowing if the Obama Campaign ever attended to my email. I'd like to think so. What I do know is that I cannot find an instance of Barack Obama using "the arc of the moral universe" after April 2008....until the evening of November 4th in his victory speech at Grant Park in Chicago, when he said (referring to the historic election):
Its the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
Maybe the Obama Campaign did get that email! They changed the arc of the moral universe to the arc of history and bent it toward hope instead of justice.
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