President Barack Obama's spokesman said Tuesday the White House was 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.
"It was not us that thought he said it, it was many people that believed - rightly so - that he said it," press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
The wheat, cream and blue rug, which debuted in the Oval Office last week, features the presidential seal in the center and quotations from famous Americans around the border. It was made by the Scott Group of Grand Rapids, Mich.
Describing the rug, a White House statement credited King for these words: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
It's one of Obama's favorite King sayings. And no one disputes that King said it exactly that way - perhaps most memorably to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on Aug. 16, 1967.
But Parker's adherents note 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."
Jamie Stiehm, writing in The Washington Post on Saturday, said crediting King but not Parker "goes beyond the beige."
"We certainly all learned a lot of important history," Gibbs said Tuesday. "What King said and what Parker said are not the same thing."
He also noted neither man's name is actually on the rug. None of the quotations has names attached.