The Arc of the Moral Universe by Pamela Darville

[1] “The Arc of the Moral Universe is long but it bends towards Justice: Its History and Meaning”
 
The oft quoted statement: “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice” has fascinated and intrigued me.  What is the “moral universe”?  Why is it long? Why does it bend towards justice?  Before addressing these questions, let’s examine the history of the statement.
 
Dr. Luther Martin King, Jr, is deemed as the originator of this statement, but research shows otherwise. [1]  The statement appeared in some fashion in the 19th century in a sermon given by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and abolitionist of slavery.  He stated:
 
Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right.  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.  But from what I am sure it bends towards justice. [2]
 
In a publication by an unknown author in 1905, the author repeated the statement used by Parker. [3]  In 1918, a modern version of the expression appeared in a book titled “Readings from Great Authors” in a section listing statements attributed to Theodore Parker:”The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  Subsequently, in 1932, 1934 and 1948 the statement was used to raise the moral consciences of men and women.
 
In 1958 and 1964, Dr. King used the saying in an article printed in the “The Gospel Messenger” and at a baccalaureate sermon at the commencement exercises for Wesleyan University, respectively. He did not credit himself as the originator of the statement.  Finally, in 2009, Time magazine published an article by President Barack Obama that included the subphrase “bends towards justice” and he credited the words to Dr. King.  [4]
 
Now that we have seen how the statement has historically traveled through time, what does it mean?  Dr. King, in speaking about the “moral universe” stated:
 
There is something in this universe that justifies the biblical writer in saying “You reap what you sow.” This is a law-abiding universe.  This a moral universe.  It hinges on moral foundations. If we to make of this a better world, we’ve got to go back and rediscover that precious value that we’ve left behind. 
 
I agree with Dr. King as he sees a “moral universe”.  I also think that the arc of the moral universe is long because some men and women refuse to accept the immorality of oppressing groups of color, implicitly and explicitly, and must be shown through patience, love, education and understanding the light of justice and freedom for all people. Dr. King, as helmsman of the civil rights struggle knew this. As members of the Anti-Racism Commission we must also realize this.  The immorality of prejudice and hatred against an individual simply because of his or her skin color will not simply disappear overnight, and it may be frustrating to “change” an individual who is engulfed in hatred.  But the “arc” of the moral universe is a long one fraught with obstacles, naysayers and the like.  But it bends towards justice and freedom as Dr. King has shown us as long as we continue our pursuits.
 
I’ll leave you with one more quote.  A news reporter asked an elderly Black woman if she was tired from walking in the march in Selma in the 1960s.  She stated:  “My feets are tired but my soul is rested.” Indeed, one may say she meant her journey was long and painful, but it would end in justice and freedom. In her own vernacular, she was expressing the long stretch of the moral universe and that it inevitably ends in justice.

[1] See http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/11/15/arc-of-universe
[2]  Ten Sermons of Religion by Theodore Parker, Of Justice and the Conscience, (1853).
[3] Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. (1905).
[4] “A New Era of Service Across America by Barack Obama” (Time Inc. March 19, 2009).