“tracing an arc that bends toward justice, speaking of Martin Luther King, of course.” While this quote is often attributed to King (he did say it), he was quoting the American Transcendentalist and abolishinist Theodore Parker:
Parker predicted the inevitable success of the abolitionist cause this way:
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.
A century later, Martin Luther King, Jr. paraphrased these words in a prepared statement he read in 1956 following the conclusion of the Montgomery bus boycott. He would later use a similar paraphrasing to great effect in two famous speeches and his final sermon: “How Long, Not Long”, delivered in March 1965 on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol; “Where Do We Go From Here?”, delivered in August 1967 to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and his “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” sermon, delivered in March 1968 at the National Cathedral.In each instance, King’s paraphrase included the words “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.