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, 95 (4), 627-39

Einstein, Race, and the Myth of the Cultural Icon

Einstein, Race, and the Myth of the Cultural Icon

Fred Jerome. Isis.


The most remarkable aspect of Einstein's 1946 address at Lincoln University is that it has vanished from Einstein's recorded history. Its disappearance into a historical black hole symbolizes what seems to happen in the creation of a cultural icon. It is but one of many political statements by Einstein to have met such a fate, though his civil rights activism is most glaringly missing. One explanation for this historical amnesia is that those who shape our official memories felt that Einstein's "controversial" friends like Paul Robeson and activities like co-chairing the anti-lynching crusade might tarnish Einstein as an icon. That icon, sanctified by Time magazine when it dubbed Einstein "Person of the Century" at the end of 1999, is a myth, albeit a marvelous one. Yet it is not so much the motive for the omission but the consequence of it that should concern us. Americans and the millions of Einstein fans around the world are left unaware that he was an outspoken, passionate, committed antiracist.

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