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Why Bend the Arc?

January 29, 2013
Alan van Capelle


Today is a special anniversary for us. On January 29, 1858 the phrase “bend the arc” was coined by the abolitionist minister Reverend Theodore Parker as he addressed a crowd in the Massachusetts statehouse on the duty of the North to seek the end of slavery: 

A century later another faith leader emerged to continue the fight for racial equality. Echoing Rev. Parker’s words at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We shall overcome – because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

Some days we can see no end in sight to struggle. We organize, petition, and lobby for change but there’s always so much more to do.

On those days, I remind myself that yes, the arc is long, and so we are in this fight for justice for the long haul. And I draw strength from the Talmud, which reminds us that while we are not obligated to complete the work, neither are we free to desist from it. We must all do our part and have faith that we are making a difference.

The wisdom of the Talmud, of Parker and King, and of all those who worked for a just society over centuries inspire me every day. And I believe that when we fight alongside workers, invest in communities, or train social justice leaders, we are helping to push this country ever closer to fulfilling its promise.

On this special day, thank you for all you do to bend the arc toward justice.