Claim: Albert Einstein once said that segregation was a "disease of white people."
Example: [Collected via e-mail, June 2013]
Here’s something you probably don’t know about Albert Einstein. In 1946, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist traveled to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the alma mater of Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall and the first school in America to grant college degrees to blacks. At Lincoln, Einstein gave a speech in which he called racism "a disease of white people," and added, "I do not intend to be quiet about it." He also received an honorary degree and gave a lecture on relativity to Lincoln students.
In fact, many significant details are missing from the numerous studies of Einstein’s life and work, most of them having to do with Einstein's opposition to racism and his relationships with African Americans.
Einstein continued to support progressive causes through the 1950s, when the pressure of anti-Communist witch hunts made it dangerous to do so. Another example of Einstein using his prestige to help a prominent African American occurred in 1951, when the 83-year-old W.E.B.
In the wake of the monumental effort to digitize Einstein's life and genius for the masses, let's hope that more of us will acknowledge Einstein's greatness as a champion of human and civil rights for African-Americans as one of his greatest contributions to the world.
Origins: The e-mail reproduced above is an excerpt from a 2007 Harvard University Gazette article about a talk given by Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor, authors of the 2006 book Einstein on Race and Racism. As related in that article, Jerome and Taylor undertook their effort in order to "recognize and correct many significant details missing from the numerous studies of Einstein's life and work, most of them having to do with Einstein's opposition to racism and his relationships with African Americans:
This unique book is the first to bring together a wealth of writings by Einstein 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, he spoke out vigorously against racism both in the United States and around the world.
The United Nations has no power to prevent war, but it can try to avoid another war. The U.N. will be effective only if no one neglects his duty in his private environment. If he does, he is responsible for the death of our children in a future war.
My trip to this institution was in behalf of a worthwhile cause. There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.
The situation of mankind today is like that of a little child who has a sharp knife and plays with it. There is no effective defense against the atomic bomb ... It can not only destroy a city but it can destroy the very earth on which that city stood.
"Einstein realized that African Americans in Princeton were treated like Jews in Germany," said Taylor. "The town was strictly segregated. There was no high school that blacks could go to until the 1940s."
Einstein’s response to the racism and segregation he found in Princeton (Paul Robeson, who was born in Princeton, called it "the northernmost town in the South") was to cultivate relationships in the town's African-American community. Jerome and Taylor interviewed members of that community who still remember the white-haired, disheveled figure of Einstein strolling through their streets, stopping to chat with the inhabitants, and handing out candy to local children.
One woman remembered that Einstein paid the college tuition of a young man from the community. Another said that he invited Marian Anderson to stay at his home when the singer was refused a room at the Nassau Inn.
Gewertz, Ken. "Albert Einstein, Civil Rights Activist." Harvard Gazette. 12 April 2007. Jerome, Fred and, Rodger Taylor. Einstein on Race and Racism. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-813-53952-8 (pp. 89-92). Woods, J.W. "Lincoln Confers Degree on Dr. Albert Einstein." The [Baltimore] Afro American. 11 May 1946 (p. 1).