Forty-five years ago today, Thurgood Marshall was nominated by Presdient Lyndon B. Johnson for the Supreme Court. What a day. From todaysdocument:
Message of President Lyndon B. Johnson nominating Thurgood Marshall of New York to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 06/13/1967
Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by the Senate on August 30, 1967, following his nomination by President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 13. Marshall was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. His nomination followed a long and distinguished career as a prominent civil rights lawyer, and he argued more than 30 cases before the Supreme Court, including the famous and influential case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"Once social change begins it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore."
~Cesar Chavez, labor leader and civil rights activist, from his address to the Commonwealth Club on November 9, 1984
Photo by Salina Canizales (distributed with instagram)
Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge
by Krista Tippett, host
I interviewed James Gates once before, a few years ago, when we were creating our show on Einstein’s ethics. We talked then about Einstein’s little-remembered passion for racial equality. James Gates spent part of his childhood in segregated schools — experiences he does not take for granted now that he is a preeminent, African-American physicist. But what I was so taken by in that conversation years ago was how he explained Einstein’s social activism in terms of the values and virtues of scientific pursuit. He spoke of empathy as a potential byproduct of the process of discovery. A scientist’s “What if…” questions can evolve into human “What if…” questions.
James Gates’ capacity to share both from his humanity and his life in science strikes me again, and comes through even more forcefully during our more recent conversation in “Uncovering the Codes for Reality.” This time, I spoke with him about his particular passions. He is a string theorist, with a special emphasis on supersymmetry — a quality in the universe which, if demonstrated, might help support string theory as a way to reconcile the greatest puzzle modern physics has tried to solve since Einstein. Simply put, the universe seems to follow different rules at the highest and the smallest levels of reality. String theory imagines that deeper than atoms, deeper than electrons, behind quarks, all of reality is brought into being by filaments of energy. These “strings” might span the whole of reality, and possibly explain why gravity behaves so differently from varying vantage points. Some leading string theorists posit that there are at least eleven dimensions — far more than the three or four dimensions we are equipped to experience.
That is about how far I comprehend the idea behind string theory. The lovely thing about a conversation with James Gates is that my incomprehension does not matter. He gives me much to chew on, and be enriched by.
For starters, he is just the latest voice — others include the astrophysicist Mario Livio, and the astronomers Guy Consolmagno and George Coyne — to let me in to the secrets and power of science’s language of mathematics. He calls mathematics a kind of sixth sense — an organ of “extrasensory perception” — for scientists. By way of mathematics, scientists perceived and described the atom years before microscopes sophisticated enough to view them could be invented. Now, with mathematics, he and his colleagues are tracing clues and cosmic hints that may never be provable with our five senses — but that may shift our very sense of the nature of reality.
One of the things James Gates and some of his colleagues have “seen,” for example, are underlying codes embedded in the cosmos — error-correcting codes, like those that drive computer programs. (Full disclosure: he’s a fan of The Matrix — so am I — and we hear a little bit of that iconic movie in our one-hour podcast.) This is just one of many observations he makes that raises questions, he says, that physics alone can neither answer nor probe.
He is also working on an interesting frontier of expanding science’s own imagination about mathematical equations in describing reality. He and his colleagues have recently employed something called adinkras, visual symbols that may be able to unlock truths that equations alone cannot capture, just as there are truths that only poetry can convey.
There’s also a lot of fodder for one of my fascinations with the realm of science — the creative, playful, even spiritual act of naming things, especially in physics: beauty quarks and anti-beauty quarks, sizzling black holes, and superstrings, for example. The term adinkras, which comes from West Africa tradition and connotes pictures having hidden meaning, carries on this tradition.
James Gates’ own delight is infectious and illuminating, as much when he is letting us in on mysteries of the cosmos as when he shares the human lessons of his life in science. I’ll leave you with this, for example, as an enticement. When I asked him what he thought of Einstein’s statement that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” he said he had puzzled over this for many years:
"For a long time in my life, imagination was the world of play. It was reading about astronauts, and monsters, and traveling in galaxies, all of that kind of stuff, invaders from outer space on earth. That was all in the world of the imagination. On the other hand, reality is all about us. And it’s constraining, and it can be painful. But the knowledge we gain is critical for our species to survive.
So how could it be that play is more important than knowledge? It took me years to figure out an answer. And the answer turns out [to be] rather strange… Imagination is more important than knowledge because imagination turns out to be the vehicle by which we increase knowledge. And so, if you don’t have imagination, you’re not going to get more knowledgeable.”
A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.
The Hall of Fame baseball player is credited with being the first African American to play in the Major Leagues, debuting with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He not only excelled athletically and professionally in a segregated society but became a vocal advocate for civil rights reform in the United States.
~Susan Leem, associate producer
Photo of Jackie Robinson courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection (cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
King constantly pointed out to those in the freedom movement that their refusal to respond in kind to the violence and terrorism of their opponents was increasing their own strength and unity. He reminded them and the world that their goal was not only the right to sit at the front of the bus or to vote, but to give birth to a new society based on more human values. In so doing, he not only empowered those on the front lines, but in the process developed a strategy for transforming a struggle for rights into a struggle that advances the humanity of everyone in the society and thereby brings the beloved community closer to realization. This is what true revolutions are about.
—Grace Lee Boggs, from her article “The Beloved Community of Martin Luther King” commemorating the 75th anniversary of his birth.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks in Paris in March 1966. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
A. Philip Randolph as Inspiration for Change
by Susan Leem, associate producer
March 6, 1963: A. Philip Randolph (third from left) meets with other organizers of the March on Washington at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands to his right. (photo: OFF/AFP/Getty Images)
When we asked Grace Lee Boggs to speak about a leader who inspired her across her 96 years, the "elder stateswoman of the Black Power movement" credited labor leader A. Philip Randolph as her inspiration:
"In 1941, I was working for $10 a week in the philosophy library of the University of Chicago. I had got my PhD the year before. But $10 a week didn’t allow me to live very luxuriously, in fact, I was living rent-free in a basement. One of the disadvantages was that I had to face down a barricade of rats in order to get to the basement. And that put me in touch with the black community which was also facing rat-infested housing.
It was July 1941 and A. Philip Randolph was calling upon blacks to march on Washington to demand jobs in defense industries. Because the depression that ended for white workers were not for black workers. When Franklin Roosevelt heard about the march, he begged Randolph to call it off. Randolph refused. Mrs. Roosevelt begged him to call off the march, Randolph refused. And eventually FDR issued executive order 8802 (Fair Employment Act) banning discrimination in defense plants for blacks.
That changed the life of blacks and made me decide I was going to become a movement activist. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I’ve been so fortunate!”
The 1941 March on Washington never happened. FDR did issue an executive order, which was enacted into law as the Fair Employment Act. Randolph’s idea later came to fruition over 20 years later when he directed the 1963 March on Washington. With 250,000 people attending, it was the largest peaceful demonstration for human rights in U.S. history, and the setting for Martin Luther King Jr.’s legendary "I Have a Dream" speech.
The audio above features A. Philip Randolph speaking at the 1963 March on Washington. His voice is deeply sonorous and moving in its call for equality not only for the sake of African Americans, but for all people.