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Civil Rights Movement

Addressing Racism

Long before the historic civil rights reforms of the 1950s and 1960s, activists like W. E. B. DuBois and Paul Robeson were pressing for improved conditions for African Americans. During the first half of the 20th century, civil rights groups argued for an end to segregation and worked to gain voting rights for all citizens. But progress was slow.

Einstein, who had experienced anti-Semitic discrimination in pre-World War II Germany, noticed with dismay the problem of American racism on one of his first trips to the United States. After he settled in Princeton in 1933, he worked with a number of leading civil rights activists and spoke out often against racial and ethnic discrimination. Although Einstein is not usually remembered for his commitment to civil rights, he was devoted to the cause, commenting that "in the last analysis, everyone is a human being."

May 3, 1946—Einstein delivers the commencement address at Lincoln University.

Despite his ill-health and a general dislike for giving commencement speeches, Einstein made an exception in May 1946. He spoke on the problem of racism during graduation ceremonies at Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania.

There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins.—Albert Einstein

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