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Einstein on Race and Racism

Einstein on Race and Racism

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Einstein on Race and Racism
    Book Description:

    Nearly fifty years after his death, Albert Einstein remains one of America's foremost cultural icons. A thicket of materials, ranging from scholarly to popular, have been written, compiled, produced, and published about his life and his teachings. Among the ocean of Einsteinia-scientific monographs, biographies, anthologies, bibliographies, calendars, postcards, posters, and Hollywood films-however, there is a peculiar void when it comes to the connection that the brilliant scientist had with the African American community. Nowhere is there any mention of his close relationship with Paul Robeson, despite Einstein's close friendship with him, or W.E.B. Du Bois, despite Einstein's support for him.This unique volume is the first to bring together a wealth of writings by the scientist on the topic of race. Although his activism in this area is less well known than his efforts on behalf of international peace and scientific cooperation, Einstein spoke out vigorously against racism both in the United States and around the world. Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor suggest that one explanation for this historical amnesia is that Einstein's biographers avoided "controversial" topics, such as his friendships with African Americans and his political activities, including his involvement as co-chair of an antilynching campaign, fearing that mention of these details may tarnish the feel-good impression his image lends topics of science, history, and America.Combining the scientist's letters, speeches, and articles with engaging narrative and historical discussions that place his public statements in the context of his life and times, this important collection not only brings attention to Einstein's antiracist public activities, but also provides insight into the complexities of antiracist culture in America. The volume also features a selection of candid interviews with African Americans who knew Einstein as children.For a man whose words and reflections have influenced so many, it is long overdue that Einstein's thoughts on this vital topic are made easily accessible to the general public.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4098-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)

    • CHAPTER 1 Escape from Berlin
      (pp. 3-10)

      On January 30, 1933, the day Hitler and the Nazis took over the German government, the most famous scientist in the world may also have been the luckiest. Albert Einstein and his wife, Elsa, were away from their Berlin home, on a visit to Pasadena, California—his third winter there as a guest faculty member at the California Institute of Technology. The Einsteins had planned to return home in the spring, but that was before January 30. Within a few months, the Nazi regime made it clear that Einstein was still alive primarily because he was not in Germany.


    • CHAPTER 2 “Paradise”
      (pp. 11-19)

      Princeton seemed like another world to Einstein when he and Elsa arrived in October 1933. The small town’s most striking first impression had to be the contrast with Berlin—the absence of gangs with swastika armbands roaming the streets, beating up Jews and Gypsies, attacking left-wing and trade-union meetings, and smashing shop windows. Princeton promised a safe haven—“a banishment to paradise,” Einstein wrote in a letter to a friend. There was also a stuffiness to Princeton, emanating from the cluster of old, elite families and “society” people. Einstein would later describe it as “a quaint and ceremonious village populated...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Other Princeton
      (pp. 20-33)

      They say Witherspoon Street is named after the path that John Witherspoon took from his home to the university and back. In modern times and for over a century, a walk north on this block, once an Indian trail, leads to the African American community. Before it was Witherspoon Street it was Hill Road, also known as Rocky Hill, African Lane, or African Alley. Witherspoon and the neighboring Clay, Maclean, Quarry, and John Streets look today like other parts of the town, sleepy and tree-filled. Some of the houses may be a little smaller, not as modern or pristine, but...

    • CHAPTER 4 Witherspoon Street
      (pp. 34-49)

      In the fall of 1946, people in African American communities caught up in the Levi Jackson craze flocked to cheer him on. Florence Taylor, then a Brooklynite, believes this may have been the year she and her husband went to Yale University to see a football game. Florence knew nothing about football but remembers a packed house and the crowd going crazy chanting “Leeeeeviiiii, Leeeeeviiiii,” as the electrifying African American running back, the star of Yale’s team, busted color barriers and stereotypes. After the game she and her husband drove down to Princeton to drop a friend off at home....

    • CHAPTER 5 Einstein and Robeson, I
      (pp. 50-65)

      If Einstein had moved to Princeton a quarter-century earlier, one of the youngsters he might have met while walking along Witherspoon Street was a tall, athletic, sharp-witted preteenager named Paul Robeson. It is easy to imagine them walking and talking together, much as Einstein did several decades later with eleven-year-old Harry Morton (see chapter 11). Einstein eager to learn about his new friend’s world, the young Robeson proudly talking about his oldest brother, Bill, who was studying in Philadelphia to become a doctor, and his father, who escaped from slavery in North Carolina at the age of fifteen, then helped...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 6 “Wall of Fame”
      (pp. 66-75)

      By August 1942, when Einstein and Robeson met afterOthello, events had fulfilled the prediction that Spain would be a prelude to a wider war. Their conversation that evening may have touched on Shakespeare, but it’s hard to believe they didn’t talk at some length about the war news. It was gloomy. Einstein’s warning five years earlier that the fall of Spain “would seriously endanger political freedom in France” proved to be just the beginning. The Nazis had taken not just Paris but most of Europe, and the Wehrmacht blitzkrieg was sweeping across the Soviet Union, seemingly unstoppable. Recent reports...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Home Front
      (pp. 76-84)

      Barred from working on the Manhattan Project and denied security clearance by the army (based on Hoover’s memo), Einstein remained in Princeton, wielding a pen as his main weapon to support the war effort. There is no evidence that he knew he had been banned from working on the bomb, but he may well have suspected.¹

      After his backstage visit in 1942, Einstein did not meet Robeson again until after the war. In the meantime, both supported several war-related organizations such as the American-Soviet Friendship Council.² Following the momentous Soviet victory at Stalingrad, Einstein wrote a fund-raising letter for the...

    • CHAPTER 8 Civil Rights Activist
      (pp. 85-97)

      It was in 1946 that Einstein became what today we might call a civil rights activist, and again linked arms with Paul Robeson. More than a million African American soldiers were coming home—some would never come home—from the war against fascism, and many black GIs had adopted a “Double-V” watchword, for victory over Nazism abroad and victory over racism at home. “Many of us had illusions that, as a result of the war, the whole system of second-class citizenship and discrimination against blacks would be ended,” one black GI later wrote, explaining:

      I was in the 92nd Division,...

    • CHAPTER 9 From World War to Cold War
      (pp. 98-121)

      America emerged on the winning side of two world wars in less than thirty years— having played a key role in both victories—as the only major power that remained relatively unscathed. Japan and Germany had been crushed; Britain badly bombed, and France invaded and occupied. The Soviet Union, bombed, invaded, and partially occupied, lost at least 20 million citizens during World War II. By contrast, “the war rejuvenated American capitalism.” U.S. Gross National Product (GNP) jumped from $91 billion in 1939 to $210 billion in 1944, and even more dramatically, in the same years, corporate profits leapt from $6.3...

    • CHAPTER 10 Einstein and Robeson, II
      (pp. 122-128)

      Einstein and Robeson met for a last time in October 1952 when Einstein again invited Robeson to his Princeton home. Their meeting went almost completely unreported. Even J. Edgar Hoover didn’t know about it, as Einstein had sent the invitation to Robeson through a mutual friend, assuming—correctly—that the FBI was intercepting mail and phone calls.¹ It was the height of the Red scare.

      Fear of a foreign, evil empire was the rationale for the Red scare, but to be successful every witch hunt needs local witches, and Robeson was one of the highest on Hoover’s witch-list. Defiantly leftist,...

    • CHAPTER 11 “My Friend, Doctor Einstein”
      (pp. 129-132)

      Two days after Einstein’s death on April 18, 1955, a headline in theDaily Princetoniandeclared:

      Einstein’s long and friendly relationship with the children of Princeton was the subject of this piece—from a young girl who claimed to give him gumdrops for help with her arithmetic, to three boys who in the summer would meet Dr. Einstein for water gun battles and bring an extra water gun for him. However one special child, an African American child, was described as “the Doctor’s most constant friend.” In 1955 he was eleven years old; his name was Harry Morton and, as...


    • CHAPTER 1 Einstein’s Statements on Race and Racism
      (pp. 135-153)

      Einstein’s antiracist statements and articles are brought together here for the first time. Some have never been published before, others rarely.

      October 14, 1931

      Mr. Albert Einstein

      Haberlandstrasse 5

      Berlin, W. 30, Germany


      I am taking the liberty of sending you herewith some copies of the crisis magazine. The crisis is published by American Negroes and in defense of the citizenship rights of 12 million people descended from the former slaves of this country. We have just reached our 21st birthday. I am writing to ask if in the midst of your busy life you could find time to...

    • CHAPTER 2 From Einstein’s FBI File: On Civil Rights
      (pp. 154-160)

      The ACEL items in Einstein’s FBI file begin with a report from Army Intelligence (G-2), described by the FBI as “a completely reliable source.”¹

      When in Washington, the delegation planned to call on the White House and national figures to demand action by the administration. A parade was scheduled to be led by colored and white veterans who were to march to the Lincoln Memorial where a national religious ceremony would be held and persons who escaped lynch mobs were to be presented…. Dr. Albert Einstein was scheduled to appear.

      As with most of Einstein’s political activities, the FBI’s reports...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 161-184)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-196)
  9. Index
    (pp. 197-206)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-207)