Albert Einstein Called Racism “A Disease of White People” in His Little-Known Fight for Civil Rights

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Albert Einstein’s activities as a passionate advocate for peace were well-documented during his lifetime. His celebrity as a famous physicist and one of the world’s most recognizable faces lent a great deal of weight to his pacifism, a view otherwise not given much consideration in the popular press at almost any time in history. However, according to a 2006 book titled Einstein on Race and Racism by Fred Jerome and Roger Taylor, the scientist was also as passionate about combating racism and segregation as he was about combating war. This facet of Einstein’s life was virtually ignored by the media, as was a visit he made in 1946 to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the first degree-granting college for African-Americans and the alma mater of Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall.

Invited to Lincoln to receive an honorary degree, Einstein gave a lecture on physics but also bluntly addressed the racial animus that held the country in its grip, reportedly calling racism, “a disease of white people” and saying he “did not intend to be quiet” about his opposition to segregation and racist public policy. Lest anyone think the Nobel-prize-winning physicist was pandering to his audience, the Harvard Gazette offers a comprehensive summary of Einstein’s support of progressive anti-racist causes, including his personal support of members of Princeton’s black community (he paid one man’s college tuition), a town Princeton native Paul Robeson once called “the northernmost town in the south.”

Einstein formed relationships with several prominent black leaders—inviting opera singer Marian Anderson to stay in his home after she was refused a room at the Nassau Inn and appearing as a character witness for W.E.B. Dubois when the latter stood accused of “failing to register as a foreign agent.” But it was his 20-year friendship with Robeson that seems central to his involvement in civil rights causes. The Harvard Gazette writes:

Einstein met Paul Robeson when the famous singer and actor came to perform at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre in 1935. The two found they had much in common. Both were concerned about the rise of fascism, and both gave their support to efforts to defend the democratically elected government of Spain against the fascist forces of Francisco Franco. Einstein and Robeson also worked together on the American Crusade to End Lynching, in response to an upsurge in racial murders as black soldiers returned home in the aftermath of World War II.

At the time of the Gazette article, 2007, a movie about Einstein and Robeson’s friendship was apparently in the works, with Danny Glover as Robeson and Ben Kingsley as Einstein. The project is apparently stalled, but with the upsurge in popular interest in the history of civil rights—with the overturning of the Voting Rights Act and the widespread coverage of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington—perhaps the project will see new life soon. I certainly hope so.

via PourMeCoffee

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MLK’s Last Days and Final Speech

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness



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  1. Pseu says . . . | August 28, 2013 / 2:11 pm

    Huh. So Albert Einstein was racist. Learn something new every day.

  2. libtekhed says . . . | August 28, 2013 / 3:24 pm

    Old Albert never had any dealings with the Japanese then if he believes only white people are racist…

  3. carolad says . . . | August 29, 2013 / 5:27 am

    Kudos to Einstein. The sad fact of the matter is that racism has been prevalent since the beginning of time whether it was religious racism or race related. We have come a long way in this country since the sixties but we have a long way go yet. It’s sad that there are so many people today who are more interested in fanning the flames than really solving the problem.

  4. Pepper says . . . | September 1, 2013 / 5:49 pm

    I’m glad Einstein was courageous enough to make this statement in regards to American racism. Americans never want to HONESTLY speak about racism and how it’s tearing this country apart. Racism is still very prevalent today and only because no one wants to have an honest conversation. There is no understanding of what racism is and now people think that when you call out some white people on their racist behavior then lo and behold that person is racist. Talking about racism and its origin is not about blaming but about examining ones beliefs, behavior and ones reactions to racist beliefs and behaviors. When Americans grow up and learn to speak about race openly and honestly will we grow as a country where ALL the citizens are seen as equal and afforded equal opportunity.

  5. Li580 says . . . | September 15, 2013 / 8:40 pm

    Actually racism didn’t exist until about the 1500′s. Back when Greece and Rome were fisrt blossoming many of the famous(Herodotus, Strabo, Hippocrates,etc) pay their respects to Africans. In fact many of the Europeans would travel to Egypt/Ethiopia for learning. There were many African generals in the roman army and there were 3-4 African popes. Racism can be unlearned…but it takes courage. We all need each other’s help tho.

  6. Jack says . . . | September 29, 2013 / 5:18 pm

    white people are racist because they have been allowed to achieve a lot through killing people from other racial groups!. and these people havent had enough will to defend themselves

  7. JJ says . . . | October 2, 2013 / 4:38 pm

    Said by a “White Man” you should know because your race created and now defines racism. How about the White people who made and dropped a bomb on those racist Japanese. FYI you’re forehead is abnormally large….

  8. JJ says . . . | October 2, 2013 / 4:44 pm

    Again so only white people have the will to do what it takes? In Germany they have just past law for a new 3rd gender, this is the legacy of racism at its height. That now recessive gene can be passed on to other races, that is why they raped and killed to preserve and sustain the European features that define race.

  9. Supergirl says . . . | November 8, 2013 / 9:02 am

    Your statement is incorrect. As “Li580″ pointed out, the construct of “race” did not really exist until around the 16th century and is thought to have originated with the Portuguese. The word you are looking for is “prejudice”. People have always been prejudiced against foreigners and probably always will be. However, that’s more a matter of nationalism and fear of the unknown than anything else, which even lesser animals exhibit. Racism, however, is the belief that your race is superior to another. A very different and far more dangerous idea altogether as one can eventually cease to be seen as foreigner once enough time passes and some other new group arises. One cannot however change the physical markers that societal constructs force on each “race” of people.

  10. Supergirl says . . . | November 8, 2013 / 9:02 am

    Your statement is incorrect. As “Li580″ pointed out, the construct of “race” did not really exist until around the 16th century and is thought to have originated with the Portuguese. The word you are looking for is “prejudice”. People have always been prejudiced against foreigners and probably always will be. However, that’s more a matter of nationalism and fear of the unknown than anything else, which even lesser animals exhibit. Racism, however, is the belief that your race is superior to another. A very different and far more dangerous idea altogether as one can eventually cease to be seen as foreigner once enough time passes and some other new group arises. One cannot however change the physical markers that societal constructs force on each “race” of people.

  11. Supergirl says . . . | November 8, 2013 / 9:02 am

    Your statement is incorrect. As “Li580″ pointed out, the construct of “race” did not really exist until around the 16th century and is thought to have originated with the Portuguese. The word you are looking for is “prejudice”. People have always been prejudiced against foreigners and probably always will be. However, that’s more a matter of nationalism and fear of the unknown than anything else, which even lesser animals exhibit. Racism, however, is the belief that your race is superior to another. A very different and far more dangerous idea altogether as one can eventually cease to be seen as foreigner once enough time passes and some other new group arises. One cannot however change the physical markers that societal constructs force on each “race” of people.

  12. Supergirl says . . . | November 8, 2013 / 9:06 am

    You clearly don’t understand the meaning of the word.

  13. Supergirl says . . . | November 8, 2013 / 9:06 am

    You clearly don’t understand the meaning of the word.

  14. Supergirl says . . . | November 8, 2013 / 9:06 am

    You clearly don’t understand the meaning of the word.

  15. Sam Malloy says . . . | November 26, 2013 / 4:57 pm

    That was just incoherent ramble. Would you care to re-write that nonsense into something that makes a bit of sense. They passed a law of what? 3rd gender? And how does rape have to do anything? Are you a loony. No you’re totally a loony.

  16. Sam Malloy says . . . | November 26, 2013 / 4:59 pm

    I agree. Also it’s not just racism from the whites anymore. It’s racism from all sides. EVERYONE needs to become more tolerant. Although at the time of Einstein the racism, especially in the government was coming from whites obviously.

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