The rug's perimeter is lined with sayings from Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt. It also has a quote that Obama has described as his favorite from Martin Luther King, Jr.
Only it turns out – after the rug has already be sewn and laid down – that it's been incorrectly attributed to King.
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," is a phrase the civil rights leader used regularly. Obama even referred to it in his election victory speech in Chicago on Nov. 5, 2008.
But it turns out that whenever King used the phrase, he was actually echoing another speaker a century before him, whom he admired: the Massachusetts minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker, who in 1853 said, "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."
The quote has often been attributed to King, but it seems Obama, his biographer David Remnick and none of the White House decorators bothered to look into its historic origins or even do a quick search on Wikipedia – which has an entry listing Parker is the original author of the phrase.
The mistake was first reported by The Washington Post, and reporters raised it with White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton on Saturday. Burton stood by the attribution to King, saying that the civil rights leader uttered those exact words on Sept. 2, 1957, according to CNN.
Another of the quotes on the new Oval Office rug is from Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg Address, in which the U.S. president referred to a "government of the people, by the people and for the people." It turns out that Lincoln, too, was paraphrasing Parker, who wrote in 1850 that a democracy is "a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people."