Dr. Albert Einstein is most celebrated for being a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and discovering the theory of relativity.
Einstein was one of 340,000 Jews who became refugees after fleeing Germany during Hitler's reign of terror, and subsequently the Holocaust. Having been persecuted for his faith, Einstein knew–first hand–the negative and deadly impact of power and oppression.
However, one aspect of the genius' life, that is often overlooked, is his relationship with African Americans and his role in the Civil Rights movement.
In 1946, he visited Lincoln University, an HBCU located in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The school is the alma mater to some of the greats including, Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall, Cab Calloway, and was the first university that allowed African Americans to earn their degrees.
Albert Einstein teaching at Lincoln University, (1946). pic.twitter.com/mnyQUyZceP
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The importance of Einstein's visit is that he did so, reportedly, in spite of having never given speeches due to his age and health. More so, it is important because he shirked the racial climate at the time. Prejudice and racial violence against blacks was established. Within this period, segregation was a way of life, and several lynchings and riots had occurred.
Undetered, Einstein not only visited, but also spoke and took questions from students and accepted an honorary degree from Lincoln University.
“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.”
After 70 years, photos of Einstein's visit to Lincoln surfaced in a PBS special, for the program "Antiques Roadshow." In it, a woman appeared in the episode and spoke to host Martin Gammon. She told him her husband was a photographer who was in the classroom that day to capture Einsten's talk with students.
"It speaks to Einstein's unrecognized, until most recently, interest in civil rights," Gammon said. "He spoke eloquently at this event of his concerns for racism and his feeling for what he called a 'white man's disease' and that he wanted to speak out."
Gammon went on to say that when famous black singer Marian Anderson came to Princeton, she was denied access to a local inn and, reportedly, "Einstein put her up for the evening," He said. "He also worked very closely with Paul Robeson, who started the American crusade to end lynching."
The photos the woman brought with her were auctioned at nearly $7,000 and $9,000. You can watch the full episode above.
This was not the only time Einstein spoken out about African American rights. He published an article titled the “The Negro Question," which expressed of his views points and concern for the African American community:
"Even among these, there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the ‘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. Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery,” he wrote.
“The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition."
Though, Einstein's connection to African Americans have been omitted from most of historical reference, scholars and authors Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor, have done the work of staying true to his legacy and his opposition of American racism. Their book, “Einstein on Race and Racism,” documents details of Einstein's life that have gone otherwise un-noted.