Albert Einstein and Black Americans


Einstein addressing students at Lincoln University, May 1946 [1]

“As for the Negroes this country still has a heavy debt to discharge for all the troubles and disabilities it has laid on the Negro's shoulders; for all that his fellow-citizens have done and to some extent are still doing to him. To the Negro and his wonderful songs and choirs we owe the finest contribution in the realm of art which America has so far given to the world. And this great gift we owe, not to those whose names are engraved on this ‘Wall of Fame’ but to children of the people, blossoming namelessly as the lilies of the field.” [5]

“There is ... a somber point in the social outlook of Americans ... Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am dearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of ‘Whites’ toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. ... The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.” [6]


Fascination with Albert Einstein encompasses the whole world. Perhaps Einstein's black following is not a well-known phenomenon, but it's there, for the same reasons Einstein captures everyone else's imagination. It is nonetheless interesting that no one I ever knew had any knowledge of Einstein's connection to the race issue in these United States. Most people know something about Einstein's pacifism, and perhaps his general propensity to lend his name to political causes. Einstein's opposition to American racism is almost completely unknown, but that will change. I myself learned many years ago about Einstein's alliance with Paul Robeson in a noted anti-lynching campaign of the late 1940s, but not much more. Recently I learned more, as more information is now becoming readily available to the general public.

One manifestation of this new-found attention is in the current Einstein exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where Einstein's anti-racist concerns are on display along with his other political commitments. The exhibit documents Einstein's association with W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and Lincoln University. (See my report, "Einstein Revisited".)

There are precedents in the Einstein literature, such as Jamie Sayen's Einstein in America. The most important book out now is Fred Jerome's The Einstein File. [2] ) This book is now in its fourth printing and is due out in paperback in May 2003. Don't fail to check out Mr. Jerome's web site The Einstein File, which contains much important information, including the dossier obtained via the Freedom of Information Act documenting the FBI's spying on Einstein as an undesirable subversive. On another web page can be found a brief account of Einstein at Lincoln University. See also the photo gallery for photos of Einstein with Paul Robeson, Lincoln University president Horace Mann Bond, and children of the faculty at Lincoln University. In addition to the book, Mr. Jerome has just published an article specifically on this subject. [3]

Mr. Jerome has another book in progress, co-authored with Rodger Taylor, to be published by Rutgers University Press, probably in 2004. The working title is "America's Worst Disease": Einstein on Race and Racism.

Much information gets lost in history, yet history is rich in linkages, including forgotten linkages among people and the peoples of the world. [4] Get to know the inspiring radical democratic heritage of the American people that you never suspected existed.

REFERENCES

[1] Sayen, Jamie. Einstein in America: The Scientist's Conscience in the Age of Hitler and Hiroshima (New York: Crown, 1985), p. 220. Full caption reads: "Einstein addressing students at Lincoln College, May 1946, on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree. Peace Photo. (Courtesy of Margot Einstein)". This image is somewhat lighter than the appearance of the photograph in appears in the book, and its dimensions are also different. The name of the institution is actually Lincoln University, an historically black institution of higher education. See pp. 219-221 for a summary of Einstein's opposition to American racism. [—>return]

[2] Jerome, Fred. The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. [—>return]

[3] Jerome, Fred. "The Hidden Half-Life of Albert Einstein: Anti-Racism", Socialism and Democracy, no. 33 (vol. 17, no.1), Winter-Spring 2003, pp. 227-244. Special issue: "Radical Perspectives on Race and Racism". [—>return]

[4] Of related interest: Edgcomb, Gabrielle Simon. From Swastika to Jim Crow: Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges. Foreword by John Hope Franklin. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company, 1993. Now a PBS documentary. For forgotten international intellectual linkages to the Abolitionist movement, see for example Letter to Ludwig Feuerbach from Ottilie Assing about Frederick Douglass. [—>return]

[5] Albert Einstein, Address at Wall of Fame, World's Fair, 1940 [Einstein Archives]. [—>return]

[6] Albert Einstein, Address at Lincoln University, May 3, 1946. Sayen cites publication of these remarks in Einstein's Out of My Later Years (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1970), p. 133. [—>return]


A Personal Tribute to Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 - 18 April 1955)

"Einstein Revisited" by Ralph Dumain

Letter from Albert Einstein to Emanuel Fried

Henry Pachter Meets Albert Einstein
by Stephen Eric Bronner

"Zu Spinozas Ethik" (On Spinoza's Ethics) — poem by Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein on Intellectuals and the Masses,
Specialization and the Division of Labor, and the Quality of Life

Albert Einstein on the Secret of Western Science

Book Review: Barnett's 'Universe'

Niels Bohr & Louis Armstrong

Kial la civilizacio ne bankrotos
de Albert Einstein, trad. el la angla C. Rosen

Offsite:

Einstein: Nov 15, 2002 - August 10, 2003, American Museum of Natural History, New York

The Albert Einstein Archives

Einstein Archives Online

Einstein: Light to the Power of 2 (video)

Einstein tried solving civil rights issues by Tammy Paolino

The Einstein File (web site)

Einstein on Race and Racism (web site)

Einstein on Race and Racism (essay) by Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor

The Hidden Half-Life of Albert Einstein: Anti-Racism by Fred Jerome

National Society of Black Physicists: Einstein on Racism and Civil Rights Resource Page


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