At the end of the 19th century, just two generations away from slavery, a girl blessed with a talent for singing was born in Philadelphia. Her name was Marian Anderson and she was musically gifted, but she was Black. Time and time again she had the door shut in her face in a country that espoused “separate but equal” but in reality was anything but.
On the other side of the ocean, a German-born Jew was developing theories that would turn the scientific world upside down. By the 1930s he was famous, but anti-Semitic laws made life in Germany impossible. The scientist was barred from teaching and his property was confiscated. That man was Albert Einstein and he was forced to flee as a refugee.
One evening in 1937, these two unlikely kindred spirits would begin a life-long friendship. Marian was performing in Princeton, New Jersey, to an all-white audience. The theater was full and the show was a hit, but she had nowhere to stay the night. The local hotel was for Whites only. Without missing a beat, Albert offered the singer his spare room. It became an open invitation Marian would accept many times over the years.
Einstein later wrote that racism was America’s “worst disease…I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.”
Marian did not seek renown as a civil rights activist. Later in life, she would reflect that her fame had made her a symbol of her people. When she did eventually perform in front of an audience where Black and White people sat side by side, she knew it was about something much bigger than herself.
Read more about this beautiful friendship in The Singer and the Scientist.