“I know how hard it is to awaken the conscience even of good-hearted and well-meaning people when deep rooted prejudices are in the way. It is a great work indeed which you are doing relentlessly for the betterment of the living conditions of our Colored fellow-citizens, for justice and for the accomplishment of national unity of the American people...”
EINSTEIN OFFERS STRONG AND PRESCIENT WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE LEADER OF THE NAACP IN THE FIGHT AGAINST RACIAL SEGREGATION AND DISCRIMINATION IN THE UNITED STATES.
Background: Einstein’s fight against racial discrimination in the United States:
The imperative “to protect the rights of the individual... was Einstein’s most fundamental political tenet. Individualism and freedom were necessary for creative art and science to flourish. Personally, politically, and professionally, he was repulsed by any restraints.
“That is why he remained outspoken about racial discrimination in America... As a Jew who had grown up in Germany, Einstein was acutely sensitive to such discrimination. ‘The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me,’ he wrote in an essay called ‘The Negro Question’ for the January 1946 issue of Pageant magazine. ‘I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.’” (Isaacson, Albert Einstein, 505).
Even more directly, in his 1946 commencement speech to Lincoln University, the first degree-granting Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the United States, Einstein strongly denounced segregation as “an American tradition which is uncritically handed down from one generation to the next” noting that “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.”
This remarkable letter – from 1943 – is one of the earliest examples of his interest in condemning racism in the United States.
Dated 22 September 1943 and handwritten on his embossed Mercer Street, Princeton letterhead, Einstein writes in English to Walter F. White, the enormously influential African-American civil rights leader who led the NAACP from 1929-1955, praising him for his work and revealing his own awareness of and frustrations with racism and prejudice in America.
The text reads in full:
Dear Mr. White:
I have been quite impressed by the address you delivered some years ago at a meeting of the Princeton Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I know how hard it is to awaken the conscience even of good-hearted and well-meaning people when deep rooted prejudices are in the way. It is a great work indeed which you are doing relentlessly for the betterment of the living conditions of our Colored fellow-citizens, for justice and for the accomplishment of national unity of the American people.
With sincere respect and kind wishes,
On April 28, 1940, White was the keynote speaker at “an inter-racial meeting sponsored by the Princeton branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People” where his topic was “What Happens to Democracy When It Encounters the Color Line.” (Princeton Herald, April 26, 1940). At the time, Princeton did not admit African Americans and the community was debating the question of whether or not to end segregation at the university. (Princeton, in fact, did not admit its first African-American student until the fall of 1947).
Einstein – writing in 1943 – notes that he heard White speak “some years ago”. Something clearly must have deeply impressed Einstein about White’s speech for him to write this thoughtful letter to White over three years after the event.
Note: In addition to its content, this apparently unpublished letter is also remarkable for being one of the very few letters Einstein hand-wrote in English during this period, as German was still very much his preferred tongue.
Princeton: September 22, 1943. One page on Einstein’s embossed Mercer Street, Princeton letterhead (7.25x10 in visible), handsomely matted and framed with a photograph of Einstein. Fine condition.
Price: $85,000 .