By Judith Mohling (Peace Train in Boulder Camera)
Well before Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against nuclear weapons, African Americans were protesting the Bomb. According to Vincent J. Intondi, author of “Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement”, historians have generally ignored African Americans when studying the anti-nuclear movement, yet they were some of the first citizens to protest Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Now for the first time, this new book tells the compelling story of black activists who fought for nuclear disarmament by connecting the nuclear issue with the fight for racial equality.
It shows that from early on, blacks in America saw the use of atomic bombs as a racial issue, asking why such enormous resources were being spent building nuclear arms instead of being used to improvPe impoverished communities. Black activists’ fears that race played a role in the decision to deploy atomic bombs only increased when the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons in Korea in the 1950s and Vietnam a decade later. For black leftists in Popular Front groups, the nuclear issue was connected to colonialism: the U.S. obtained uranium from the Belgian controlled Congo and the French tested their nuclear weapons in the Sahara.
By expanding traditional research in the history of the nuclear disarmament movement to look at black liberals, clergy, artists, musicians, and civil rights leaders, Intondi reveals the links between the black freedom movement in America and issues of global peace. From Langston Hughes through Lorraine Hansberry to President Obama, African Americans Against the Bomb offers a whole new account of the continuous involvement of African Americans who recognized that the rise of nuclear weapons was a threat to the civil rights of all people.
According to Wikipedia, the Manhattan Project was the codename for the secret US government research and engineering project during the Second World War that developed the world’s first nuclear weapons. President Franklin Roosevelt had created a committee to look into the possibility of developing a nuclear weapon after he received a letter from Nobel Prize laureate Albert Einstein in October 1939. In his letter, Einstein warned the president that Nazi Germany was likely already at work on developing a nuclear weapon. By August 1942, the Manhattan Project was underway.
By 1944, six thousand scientists and engineers from leading universities and industrial research labs were at work on the development of the world’s first-ever nuclear weapon. Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist, headed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Manhattan Project’s principal research and development facility. For security reasons, the facility was located in the desert near Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Major General Leslie Groves oversaw the Manhattan Project for the US government. Private corporations, foremost among them DuPont, helped prepare weapons-grade uranium and other components needed to make the bombs. Nuclear materials were processed in reactors located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington. At its peak, the Manhattan Project employed 130,000 Americans at thirty-seven facilities across the country.
On July 16, 1945 the first nuclear bomb was detonated in the early morning darkness at a military test-facility at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The intense brightness of the explosion’s flash was followed by the rise of a large mushroom cloud from the desert floor. House windows more than fifty miles away shattered.
According to”African Americans Against the Bomb” At least 12 black chemists and physicists worked as primary researchers on the team that developed the technology behind the atomic bomb.
Black scientists at the Metallurgical Lab and Columbia University included, among others: Edwin R. Russell, a research chemist focused on isolating and extracting plutonium-239 from uranium; Moddie Taylor, a chemist who analyzed the chemical properties of rare earth metals; Ralph Gardner-Chavis, a chemist who worked closely with Enrico Fermi; George Warren Reed, who researched fission yields of uranium and thorium; Lloyd Quarterman, a chemist who worked on distilling Uranium-235; the Harvard-educated brothers Lawrence and William Knox, chemists who researched the effects of the bomb and separation of the uranium isotope, respectively; chemists Harold Delaney and Benjamin Scott and physicist Jasper Jeffries.
“I look forward to a time when we celebrate Black Americans’ full inclusion in the American Dream of democracy and nation building, even if that history includes painful episodes that make us cringe today,” wrote black historian Vincent Intondi. I deeply agree.