A new Oval Office rug contains several famous sentiments:
"GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE" - Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
"NO PROBLEM OF HUMAN DESTINY IS BEYOND HUMAN BEINGS" - John F. Kennedy.
"THE WELFARE OF EACH OF US IS DEPENDENT FUNDAMENTALLY ON THE WELFARE OF ALL OF US" - Teddy Roosevelt.
"THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF" - FDR's inaugural speech.
"THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE IS LONG, BUT IT BENDS TOWARD JUSTICE" - Obama's favorite Martin Luther King quotation.
The source of the "moral universe" quote is not Martin Luther King Jr, as is commonly believed. Jamie Stiehm points out at the Washington Post that many people (myself included, on several occasions) misattribute those words, which were actually spoken by Theodore Parker 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."
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.
A century later, during the civil rights movement, King, an admirer of Parker, quoted the Bostonian's lofty prophecy during marches and speeches. Often he'd ask in a refrain, "How long? Not long." He would finish in a flourish: "Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
King made no secret of the author of this idea. As a Baptist preacher on the front lines of racial justice, he regarded Parker, a religious leader, as a kindred spirit.