Is the Universe a Friendly Place or Not?

September 30, 2016

In my reading at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp, I've developed an ever growing appreciation for Albert Einstein. His General Theory of Relativity changed how we view time and space. However, I didn't know until recently that he had other non-scientific achievements. Most notably, he actively confronted racism. Having grown up as a German Jew, he knew firsthand what it was like to be harassed and persecuted because of race. Einstein claimed life's most important question to be "Is the universe a friendly place or not?" He truly tried to make it friendly, particularly regarding the racism he saw when he came to America in 1933.

 

While Einstein was a professor at Princeton University, he and his wife invited African American singer Marion Anderson to stay in their home when Princeton's Nassau Inn refused her a room because of her race. Thereafter, she always stayed with them when she returned to the city. Known as the woman with the golden voice, Anderson herself had come from Europe, full of hope, to find herself the object of racism. Later in life, she performed at the Metropolitan Opera and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Grammy lifetime achievement award.

 

During a speech at Lincoln University, Einstein called racism America's "worst disease".  He emphasized that the thought of racial superiority over others was "handed down from one generation to the next."  In 1946, he published an essay called "The Negro Question" in Pageant magazine, where he wrote, "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."

 

In 1951, when the federal government indicted 83 year old W.E.B. Dubois, the founder of the NAACP, as a "foreign agent", Einstein spoke out and was instrumental in having the charges dropped, even offering to testify as a character witness.

 

Einstein's scientific contributions were so significant, it's easy to overlook how he took his own question to heart, doing what he could to make the universe a friendly place.

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© 2016 by Charles D. Jones