From the Portside list. --PG
[Below is the authors' preface to the about-to-be-
published book Einstein on Race and Racism by Fred
Jerome and Rodger Taylor. (Hardcover, 192 pages, Rutgers
University Press, July 25, 2005, ISBN: 0813536170.) The
book may be ordered now at http://www.amazon.com and
will ship when it arrives.
For those in New York, there will be a discussion and
book-signing on Monday, July 25, 6 pm, at the Hue-man
Bookstore and Cafe, 2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd,
between 124th and 125th Streets, on 8th Ave.
AUTHORS' PREFACE TO EINSTEIN ON RACE AND RACISM
By Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor
More than one hundred biographies and monographs of
Einstein have been published, yet not one of them
mentions the name Paul Robeson, let alone Einstein's
friendship with him, or the name W. E. B. Du Bois, let
alone Einstein's support for him. Nor does one find in
any of these works any reference to the Civil Rights
Congress whose campaigns Einstein actively supported.
Finally, nowhere in all the ocean of published
Einsteinia -- anthologies, bibliographies, biographies,
summaries, articles, videotapes, calendars, posters and
postcards -- will one find even an islet of information
about Einstein's visits and ties to the people in
Princeton's African American community around the street
One explanation for this historical amnesia is that
Einstein's biographers and others who shape our official
memories, felt that some of his 'controversial' friends,
such as Robeson, and activities, such as co-chairing the
antilynching campaign, might somehow tarnish Einstein as
an American icon. That icon, sanctified by Time magazine
when it dubbed Einstein the 'Person of the Century,' is
a myth, albeit a marvelous myth. In fact, as myths go,
Einstein's is hard to beat. The world's most brilliant
scientist is also a kindly, lovably bumbling,
grandfather figure: Professor Genius combined with Dr.
Feelgood! Opinion-molders, looking down from their ivory
towers, may have concluded that such an appealing icon
will help the great unwashed public feel good about
science, about history, about America. Why spoil such a
beautiful image with stories about racism, or for that
matter with any of Einstein's political activism?
Politics, they argue, is ugly, making teeth grind and
fists clench, so why splash politics over Einstein's
icon? Why drag a somber rain-cloud across a bright blue
sky? Einstein might reply, with a wink, that without
rain-clouds life would be very, very short. Or he might
simply say that a bright blue sky is a fairy tale in
today's war-weary world.
Yet, despite Einstein's clear intention to make his
politics public -- especially his anti-lynching and
other antiracist activities -- the history-molders have
seemed embarrassed to do so. Or nervous. 'I had to think
about my Board,' a museum curator (who doesn't want his
name used even today) said, explaining why he had
omitted some of the scientist's political statements
from the major exhibition celebrating Einstein's one
hundredth birthday in 1979.
When it came to how to handle Einstein's ashes or his
house on Mercer Street, everyone involved meticulously
adhered to his wishes. But when it involved his ideas,
and especially his concerns about what he called
America's 'worst disease,' the fact that Einstein wanted
his views made as public as possible seems to have
slipped past his historians.
Readers may judge for themselves how much of this
oversight is due to forgetting and how much may be due
to other motives (including, perhaps, disagreement with
Einstein's point of view). It is not so much the motive
for the omission, but the consequence that concerns us.
Americans and the millions of Einstein's fans around the
world are left unaware that Einstein was an outspoken,
passionate, committed anti-racist. 'It is certain --
indeed painfully obvious -- that racism has permeated US
history both as idea and practice,' as the historian
Herbert Aptheker states. 'Nevertheless,' he adds, 'It
always has faced significant challenge.'
Racism in America depends for its survival in large part
on the smothering of anti-racist voices, especially when
those voices come from popular and widely respected
individuals -- like Albert Einstein. This book, then,
aspires to be part of a grand un-smothering.