because he was smart

Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein were friends!! Like, friends. Not acquaintances. I am related to Marian Anderson and she hung out with Einstein. Considering the purposefully reposted quote along side Einstein’s notion that the limiters of potential are limited as well, I imagine they had some profound conversations.  That’s nearly as impressive to me as her “dissing” the D.A.R. by singing on the steps outside in response to their choice to disrespect her in honor of the organization’s racial exclusion policy.

Anyway, here’s more on Einstein’s stand for equality. It was a lot more involved than delivering a speech at a University, and there are many more details here than in the article posted yesterday.  Not that the speech wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought. It was!  Not only was Mr. Einstein brave enough to speak out, he did it while he was ill.  Outside.  Ok, it was May, so maybe the weather was fine, but I’m just saying if he was looking for an excuse not to speak, sounds like he had it, but chose not to use it.  Instead, he got up there and spoke to the impressionable minds of the “first institution found anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent.”  If young African American males today are largely still in need of academic encouragement and inspiration and respect, I can only imagine how impactful and empowering Einstein’s presence alone was pre Brown vs. Board of Ed.  Just the simple fact that he spoke, and the forbidden, unspoken truth contained in his words.  I have a feeling this brilliant man knew exactly what he was doing.

Albert Einstein, I acknowledge your greatness as a champion of human and civil rights and your hand in illuminating the fact that limiting the potential of a significant portion of society limits everyone in that society

Thank you.

xo,

Tiff

einstein1d-m

Albert Einstein at Lincoln University

(photo of Marian Anderson in background?)

Albert Einstein passionately fought race prejudice, according to new and old docs

by Ronda Racha Penrice

Nearly 60 years after his death, the great scientist Albert Einstein is still making headlines. The launch of Einstein Archives Online — a more advanced repository of his work — is a long-term collaboration by Israel’s Hebrew University, which he co-founded, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he was a guest faculty member on several occasions, and Princeton University, where he was a faculty member, generated global attention on March 19. Eventually, over 80,000 documents held in Hebrew University’s Albert Einstein Archives and Caltech’s Einstein Papers Project will be available on the Internet. About 2,000 are currently available.

Despite this unprecedented access, however, one thing hasn’t changed: Einstein’s strong support of African-American civil rights and his defiant stance against racism are largely footnotes, especially for the mainstream press. While it will, no doubt, be exciting to pull up correspondence between Einstein and W.E.B. Du Bois one day, his association with Du Bois was just the tip of the iceberg.

Einstein, as documented in the 2003 book Einstein on Race and Racism by veteran science writer and journalist Fred Jerome, who also covered civil rights activity in the South in the 1960s, and New York librarian Rodger Taylor whose early writings have focused on jazz and early African-American life in New York, staunchly denounced racism and segregation in the United States, even as his health steadily failed and his own mortality drew nearer.

Jerome first delved into Einstein’s human rights advocacy in his 2002 book, The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist. In that groundbreaking work, Jerome highlighted a May 3, 1946 speech Einstein gave at historic Lincoln University, the alma mater of both Thurgood Marshall and Langston Hughes and, as its then president Horace Mann Bond pointed out, “the first institution found anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent.” Interestingly, a young Julian Bond, Horace Mann Bond’s son, was there that day.

The speech was especially significant because, as Jerome also writes in The Einstein File, “During the last twenty years of his life, Einstein almost never spoke at universities.” He routinely turned down almost all of the honorary degree requests he received.

On top of that, Einstein’s health was not the greatest. Yet, he stood outdoors to receive his honorary degree from Lincoln University, which can actually be viewed on the Einstein Archives Online now, and, even more importantly, spoke these poignant words reported in the Baltimore Afro-American May 11, 1946: “There is 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.”

And he was not. Einstein, as Jerome notes in his essay The Hidden Half-Life of Albert Einstein: Anti-Racism for the Journal of the Research Group of Socialism and Democracy Online, spoke these words in a time known by some as “the Bloody Spring of 1946” because it was just after black men had returned from World War II to the harsh reality that the Double V campaign, which The Pittsburgh Courier especially championed, had succeeded in saving the world from Hitler, but had not destroyed racism at home. 

On February 25, 1946, William Fleming, a white radio repairman, assaulted Ms. Gladys Stephenson, a black woman, and her son James, a Navy veteran, defended her, resulting in both of their arrests. When some white men, including four policemen, headed towards the black side of town, known as Mink Slide, later that evening, they found that a group of veterans had organized themselves for self-defense, and shots were fired.

“African-Americans firing on white policemen was enough for the governor to rush in 500 State Troopers with submachine guns who attacked Mink Slide, destroying virtually every black-owned business in the four-square-block area, seizing whatever weapons they could find, and arresting more than one hundred black men,” writes Jerome.

Twenty-five of the black men arrested were indicted for attempted murder. Einstein immediately joined the National Committee for Justice in Columbia, Tennessee, headed by Eleanor Roosevelt and also supported by Mary McLeod Bethune, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Joe Louis, A. Phillip Randolph and Langston Hughes that March. With Thurgood Marshall serving as the chief defense attorney, 24 of the 25 men were acquitted.

The violence didn’t stop in Columbia. On July 26, the heinous murder of two black men, one a veteran, and their wives in Monroe, Georgia was even reported by the New York Times. As with the majority of these acts of domestic terrorism, justice was not served. Einstein was outraged enough to lend his prominence to actor and activist Paul Robeson’s American Crusade to End Lynching (ACEL) that September.

Despite being too ill to participate in the mass rally at the Lincoln Memorial on September 23, 1946 (the day after Lincoln proposed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in 1862), Einstein penned a brief letter to President Truman confirming his support of the ACEL.

“May I wholeheartedly endorse the aims of this delegation, in the conviction that the overwhelming majority of the American people is demanding that every citizen be guaranteed protection from acts of violence,” he wrote. That same month, Einstein penned a much longer letter in support of the National Urban League Convention that highlighted the economic injustices, among other inequalities, experienced by black Americans.

When the Nassau Inn in Princeton refused Marian Anderson lodging during her 1937 concert there, Einstein invited her into his home as a guest and they maintained a friendship. Anderson actually stayed in the Einstein home in 1955 two months before his death. Before Einstein even came to this country permanently in 1933, he responded to a 1931 letter written to him by Du Bois, who had studied at the University of Berlin where Einstein was on the faculty, to write something small against racism to be published in The Crisis. Later, Einstein supported Du Bois even as Senator McCarthy placed him at the top of his target list.

From the Scottsboro Boys case to the numerous attempts to stop the execution of Willie McGee, a black Mississippi sharecropper accused of raping a white woman, and efforts to prevent New Jersey from extraditing Sam Buckhannon, a black Georgian who had escaped a chain gang after serving 18 years for stealing a pack of cigarettes, Einstein used his fame to condemn American racism.

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 follow Jerome’s lead, and acknowledge Einstein’s greatness as a champion of human and civil rights for African-Americans as one of his greatest contributions to the world.

old paris, eiffel

Excerpted from a blog post by Rodger Taylor on a presentation in Paris about Einstein and racism:

The Book in Bed presentation was by far the largest audience — it seemed a hundred or so people. Half of them appeared to be high school aged.

“Einstein was White. Why should or did he care about racism?” — was a question asked by a French high school student. The question sparked conversation and also framed our presentation the next day.

Some of the responses as to why included:

Because Einstein was smart.

Because he realized that limiting the potential of a significant portion of society limits everyone in that society.

Because he was empathetic — and if he could imagine what is was like to be a beam of light projected into space, he could imagine what it was like to be black in America.

Because he got to know black people on a personal basis — both in the town of Princeton where he lived and beyond and that made a signficiant difference in how he felt about the racism they experienced.

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white top

White Top Folk Festival by Jason Riedy.

Text of the sign: “The White Top Folk Festival was held annually from 1931 to 1939 (except 1937) on Whitetop Mountain — the second highest peak in Virginia. Annabel Morris Buchanan, John Powell, and John A. Blakemore organized the event that featured banjo players, fiddlers, string bands, and ballad singers, as well as storytelling, clog dancing, morris and sword dancing, and theatrical presentations. Thousands of people attended the festival each year, including nationally known academic folklorists, art critics, composers, and in 1933, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The festival was cancelled in 1940 because of heavy rains and floods and never returned.

A First Lady in a False Kingdom: A Curious

Convergence on White Top Mountain

CHRISTA SMITH ANDERSON

From 1932 to 1939, the Whitetop Folk Festival attracted people from far and wide to the small mountain community. In 1933, even First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stopped by to celebrate.

It was August 12, and the tenure of America’s longest-running first lady was in its infancy. Franklin Roosevelt had been in office just over five months. The FBI was still called the Bureau of Investigation, and its director, J. Edgar Hoover, hadn’t started compiling what would become his largest secret file — the 3,271 pages on Eleanor Roosevelt’s activities, many of them anti-segregation and, thus, “subversive.” The Ku Klux Klan didn’t know Eleanor Roosevelt well enough yet to have a price on her head. Another six years would pass before her infamous resignation from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) over that organization’s refusal to allow African-American contralto Marian Anderson to perform in Constitution Hall.

…One of the festival’s organizers, John Powell, proudly asserted that “the great proof of the importance and the significance of the great musical heritage of our people is in the fact that Mrs. Roosevelt should come.”

Like many a memorable character, John Powell, who was also a founder of the Anglo- Saxon Clubs of America, is both compelling and repelling. A classical composer and pianist from Richmond, Virginia, Powell studied in Vienna with Theodor Leschetizky, in Prague with Karl Navrátil. He made his debut in Berlin in 1907, when he was twenty-five years old; the performance was hailed by critics as one of the most successful the city had ever known.

In the first part of his career, Powell incorporated all forms of American music — notably, African-American music — into compositions like Sonata Virginianesque and Rhapsodie Nègre. But by the 1930s, when he was selecting and shaping the White Top Folk Festival musicians, he was committed to promoting what he considered “Anglo-Saxon” music: a pure, white music from a pure, white region of America, whose music was dangerously at risk of becoming defined by a black American baby called Jazz.

By excluding black musicians, probably of some Anglo heritage themselves, Powell and other festival organizers brought to the mountaintop the pernicious bias that would become Powell’s legacy.

In 1924, Powell was instrumental in a court case that prevented the marriage of Dorothy Johns and James Connor by proving that one of Johns’s ancestors was black, thus she could not legally marry Connor, who was white. Some thirty-four years later, Powell was also instrumental — by virtue of his efforts in the 1920s — in making sure that interracial newly-weds Mildred and Richard Loving didn’t get a full night’s sleep. A few weeks after they were married, the Lovings were awakened around two a.m. by flashing police lights and escorted from their bed so they could be booked into the Caroline County, Virginia, jail. Each was charged with a felony.

The Dorothy Johns case was the first test of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, the Lovings’ the last. The “one-drop” law made interracial marriage a felony in Virginia and was especially targeted at whites marrying blacks, blacks being defined, of course, as anyone with “one drop” of black blood. Powell worked with other racial eugenicists to get the law passed in 1924, and was the self-proclaimed originator of it. By 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Racial Integrity Act in Loving v. Virginia, there were similar laws in fifteen other states as far north as Delaware, and as far west as Oklahoma.

For Eleanor Roosevelt, this 1933 trip to Southwest Virginia was a sentimental journey. Her father, Elliott, lived out the Panic of 1893 — the Great Depression’s predecessor — in the Southwestern Virginia town of Abingdon, close to the Tennessee and North Carolina borders.

At the festival, Eleanor warmly addressed the crowd of some ten thousand attendees: “To the people who live here I want to say a special word of gratitude. They have given me the feeling that they remember affectionately my father, whom I adore.”  And then she ended her speech, “For the rest of the day I hope to be just a spectator.”

Hundreds of performers took the stage for the festival that year. Among the prizewinners was Jack Reedy from Marion, Virginia. He won first prize in banjo; tied for first in clog dancing; and performing with the Blevins Brothers in the band competition, tied for first.


Eleanor Roosevelt posed with White Top Folk Festival contestants Frank Blevins (fiddle), Jack Reedy (banjo), Edd Blevins (guitar), and six-year-old mandolin sensation, Muriel Dockery, in 1933.
Library of Virginia

Mrs. Roosevelt may very well have heard some of the same songs her father did. But didn’t she, or any of those reporters who’d read about the “quartette of negroes” singing to him in the 1890s, think it curious that in the 1930s, not a one of the singers, instrumentalists, dancers, or storytellers at this folk-music festival with a five-state view was black? Did they not find the complexion of this kingdom to be unusually fair?  I’d like to think the White Top Mountain Folk Music Festival was the fool-me-once in Eleanor’s evolution as a Civil Rights activist.  Eleanor never publicly criticized the White Top Mountain Folk Music Festival organizers for their exclusion of black performers. But her reaction to some of the people who did perform hints at the cost of Powell’s agenda on the music he was trying to elevate. In her “Passing Thoughts of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt” column in the Women’s Democratic News, Eleanor wrote of the women ballad singers she saw and heard on White Top: “[They were] fine featured … showing in their carriage and expression that there is something in inheritance.” As for the music, “Their voices were not remarkable but the whole thing was of great interest to those who believe that there is value in preserving the folk lore which has come out of the early customs and experiences of the people of the country.”

For whatever Powell might have thought of Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933, it’s quite certain that his opinion would’ve changed drastically by the 1950s, when racists flat-out hated her, some of them wondering why on earth a white person would talk so much about civil rights, others coming to the conclusion that Mrs. Roosevelt must have some black ancestry. Eleanor was downright snide about the whole eugenics thing. In her “My Day” newspaper column, she wrote about receiving an “amusing postcard” from someone in Mobile, Alabama, who wrote: “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:
You have not answered my questions, the amount of Negro blood you have in your veins, if any.”

To which she responded: “I am afraid none of us know how much or what kind of blood we have in our veins, since chemically it is all the same. And most of us cannot trace our ancestry more than a few generations.” She went on, “As far as I know, I have no Negro blood, but, of course, I do have some Southern blood in my veins, for my Grandmother Roosevelt came from Georgia.”

As for John Powell, he was too “refined” to wear a white sheet. His cloak was musical brilliance, and that brilliance was about as flooded out as the last-planned White Top Mountain Folk Music Festival. (The 1940 festival was rained out, and organizers never brought it back.)

But for all the record-industry packaging that would corral white into “hillbilly” and black into “blues,” making country music today seem the province of white folk, when it comes down to it, American country music got its start as a Virginia-born, biracial baby. Biracial unless, of course, you were to follow Powell’s one-drop definition — in which case it’s black music, just like Powell’s own early compositions, just like every song played on White Top Mountain with that African instrument, the banjo.

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