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Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Africa (9)

By J. K. Obatala   |   25 November 2015   |   11:55 pm  


IN 1966, I walked into the sitting room of an upper middle class home in Barcelona, and was transfixed: Facing me, from the opposite wall, was a jet-black man, wearing a turban. When I inquired about the painting, my hosts shed some fascinating light on Western intellectual history.

“That’s a Moor,” the wife explained. “It’s part of our history. The Moors were Islamic invaders, who came across the sea from Africa, in 711 A.D. and conquered most of Spain. Christian armies drove them out eight centuries later. But the Moors did a lot of good things, while they were here”.

One legacy of Moorish rule, to the atomic bomb project, is the university systems where many of the émigré scientists were trained. “The universities of Paris and Oxford,” wrote Murray Bourne, in Math of the Moors, “were established as a result of visits by [European] scholars to Al-Andalus [Muslim Spain]”.

According to the Black Heritage Studies website, it was through Africa that new ideas and technology from India, China and the Middle East reached Europe. The Moors introduced advances and innovations in astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, navigation and geography.

In modern Western historiography, the impression is strongly propagated that the Moors were almost all Caucasoid Berbers and Arabs. But this is an academic scam. The first invaders were mainly Blacks from the Sudan geographical belt (which includes Nigeria). The Arabs followed.

Furthermore, even up to the era of the Atlantic Slave Trade, the term “Moor” generally meant “Black”. Hence one of Amo’s books, was a defense of the “Rights of Moors in Europe”. Also, almost all the ubiquitous “Moors head” figures in European heraldry, are images of Black men.

Blacks shipped to North America, via the slave trade, provided a more direct channel, through which African intellectual input would impact the Manhattan Project. The progeny of these exiled Africans, started to enter prestigious U.S. universities, such as Princeton and Columbia, as early as the late 1700s.

By the time MED was set up, in 1942, to build the world’s first nuclear weapon, there were nearly fifty all-black tertiary institutions, turning out chemists, physicists, engineers and mathematicians. Various MED units quietly enlisted black scientists, from both segregated and integrated universities.

But at Las Alamos, where the bomb was actually assembled, blacks were excluded, except as menial workers. “As far as we know,” Julia Rocchi surmised, in a blog about the TV serial, Manhattan, “only one African-American was at Los Alamos… We only know this from pictures, and he was a military man”.

There may have been others. But Rocchi is certainly close to the mark. Whatever the reason for their near-absence at Las Alamos though, the screening of African Americans from MED unites in the Southeast, was due to the U.S. Army’s unwillingness to challenge racial “Jim Crow” laws.

Earnest Wilkins, for instance, was dubbed “the Negro genius,” in the U.S. media. He entered the University of Chicago at 13—its youngest student ever—and obtained a Ph.D. in Mathematics before turning 20. After a year at black Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama, he returned to Chicago and joined the Metallurgical Laboratory, a MED facility.

At “Met Lab” Wilkins worked with some of the biggest names in 20th century science: Including Edward Teller, Arthur Holly Compton, Enrico Fermi and Eugene Wigner. He helped Wigner develop a theory to determine thermal constants on water-moderated nuclear reactors.

But when Wilkins’ team went to MED’s Oakridge unit, in racially segregated Tennessee, to test Wigner’s theory, the “Negro genius” was sent to Columbia University!

To be continued

J.K. Obatala

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