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African-Americans and the Manhattan Project


It was more than Dr. Robert Oppenheimer

By William Covington | OW Contributor

Christopher Nolan is considered one of the leading filmmakers of the 21st century by executives in the movie industry. His films have grossed $5 billion worldwide. Individuals that have seen his recent creation, “Oppenheimer,” have once again accused him of whitewashing his film. as well as an earlier project, “The Dark Knight Trilogy.”

This accusation comes from the fact that there’s no mention of Africa or African-Americans in the film “Oppenheimer. “The continent of Africa and its indigenous tribes is where two-thirds of the uranium came from that was a major component in the development of the bombs, Fat Man and Little Boy. A grade of uranium in its purest form was removed from an open mine over 800 feet deep, located in Congo’s Katanga, a mineral-rich area in the southeast region of the Congo

The Dirt of Africa

Africa is nicknamed the “Motherland” due to it being the oldest inhabited continent on Earth.

Dirt is what the Congolese miner’s referred to as Uranium in the 1940’s, according to notes retrieved from the Manhattan Project, archived by the United States Department of Energy (MHPUSDE).

Poet and Biochemist,” Latrice Ebuna, who’s Grandparents worked in the Congo mines in the 1930’s remembers stories her Grandfather told her about the colorful dirt they would rub on their skin that painted the skin with a glowing lime hue from the uranium. She believes the painted dirt may have been a diluted concoction of herbs or material with low radioactive value. Applying a uranium solution would cause irritation and skin rash.

She describes how,” Life came from organic compounds found in the dirt from South Africa that underwent a natural process known as biogenesis and formed organic molecules which became life.”

According to a recent study, scientists believe it happened in the wetlands of Botswana. Before colonization, Ebuna states, black history professors believed that African life was the purest untouched and existed with uranium.

Ebuna believes,” Man stole the peaceful dirt from the Congo and through a lavish industrial process produced a fissionable material that takes life. “That material is Uranium. According to Nuclear Physicists of the 1930’s, Africa had the purest uranium. Ebuna hates the fact that minerals are taken from her land to kill, Africans could use its resources to better life. Individuals like Einstein and Oppenheimer practiced Nuclear Apartheid.

Our article begins with German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein and Hungarian physicist Leo Sziland drafting and forwarding a letter to President Roosevelt on 2 August 1939, alerting him to the possibility of the United States constructing a powerful bomb that turns uranium into a new and important source of energy. The letter warned Roosevelt that the Nazi government in Germany is already attempting to build the same type of bomb. This was based on the Nazis cessation of all sale of uranium from the Czech Republic mines to foreign countries including the United States. During this time, the United States had access to uranium in Canada, and Colorado which was not that pure, and would require refinement.

Einstein informed the President that, “The most important source of uranium is in the Belgian Congo,” according to a copy of the letter OW retrieved from the Franklin D.Roosevelt Library.

This letter would cause the death of Africans in the Belgian Congo, and indigenous individuals in North America. While mines in the Colorado Plateau and the Eldorado mine in Canada provided a large portion of uranium for the Manhattan Project, the project would not have been possible without the Shinkolobwe mine in Belgian Congo.

The ore found in the Shinkolobwe mine contained the richest deposits of uranium in the world, with concentrations up to 7,000 times higher than uranium ore mined in the United States. The mine ultimately provided two-thirds of the Manhattan Project’s uranium and would sentence Congo to a role as a Cold War proxy ground after World War II.

The OSS and The Uranium Plantation

Congolese miners worked for Belgian bosses; who reaped the profits of this rich mine. American customers, under the same dangerous conditions as the Navajo miners and were left in the dark about the health effects they were being exposed to and the end product of their labor. Miners and their families have reported serious health issues likely related to radiation exposure, and none knew of their contribution to the Manhattan Project.

Dr. Celestin Banza Lubaba, a professor of toxicology in the School of Public Health at the University of Lubumbashi, researches the health conditions of mine workers in southeast Congo’s minerals sector. Lubaba believes the Belgian Congo mining industry may have killed more Africans than both bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nakasaki. He states after World War II the mine remained active to help the west fight communism.

Newly opened archives from the United States Department of Energy shows that the Congolese were essential in providing material to build the bomb.The U.S. obtained uranium from the Belgian controlled Congo. During the mining the radioactive element caused disastrous health effect’s on Congolese miners who handled the uranium, working practically as slaves of the Belgian mining giant Union Miniere du Haut Katanga (UMHK), the owner of the Shinkolobwe mining site in what was then the Belgian Congo,and now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Uranium exploitation lead to large-scale radiological and toxic contamination around many mining sites in Africa. Multinational mining companies remain largely unregulated and unaccountable, public participation in decision making regarding uranium mining is minimal, and long-term effects are insufficiently addressed..

American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – forerunner of the CIA – recruited a motley band to ensure the uranium reached the US and did not fall into the hands of Congo, and Nazi Germany. The group of hand-picked officers included two ornithologists – good training, perhaps, for a spy. They posed as rubber prospectors or investigators of diamond smugglers. The word “uranium” never passed their lips: instead, even in coded telegrams, they referred to “raw material”, “diamonds”, or, simply, “gems”.They were not told why the US was so desperate to secure a regular supply of the high-grade uranium ore. Not even Wilbur Owings Hogue, the OSS station chief in Belgian Congo, according to Williams.

Which means there is a strong possibility that Oppenheimer may not have been aware of the Congolese uranium during World War II, however the mining continued up into the cold war, depicted in the movie. He was likely aware of Africa’s involvement then. Congolese and Native American mining death estimates remain a secret within former Allied governments that are active as NATO or Allies of the west.

Hidden Figures

Thousands of African-American women and men contributed to the Manhattan Project, but many of their stories remain untold. They were an important part of the workforce, especially at Hanford and Oak Ridge. More than 15,000 African-Americans arrived in the Tri-Cities during the Manhattan Project. Approximately 7,000 African-Americans worked in Oak Ridge for the Manhattan Project. Most, but not all, were lower-level laborers. They came to Hanford and Oak Ridge to help with the war effort and to earn higher wages but faced Jim Crow racism and segregation that was common throughout the US at that time. Although African-Americans were generally construction workers, laborers, janitors or domestic workers, a limited number of African-American men and women worked as scientists and technicians at smaller Manhattan Project sites in New York and Chicago.

On several occasions Robert Oppenheimer visited Oak Ridge. Back then, it was named “The Secret City,” and he had gone to oversee the work done there.

Oak Ridge historian Ray Smith shares stories of Oppenheimer’s stay in the area at the “Guest House” at the time — the only hotel in town.

“Robert Oppenheimer was chosen by General Groves to lead the design for the atomic bomb,” Ray said. “He had a presence when he came into the room. He was very intelligent and didn’t mind telling you if he knew more than you did.”

Not much is recorded about Oppenheimer’s visits to the “Secret City.” His brother, Frank Oppenheimer, is also a respected physicist and lived in the Oak Ridge area while working on the Calutron machines.

Mike Stallo, a history specialist with the Oak Ridge Public Library, said Robert was kept protected during his visits.

“He wasn’t supposed to drive by himself, travel by air,” Mike said. “They were very protective of him.”

Oppenheimer’s work was mainly done in Los Alamos. There is a possibility that he may have not been exposed to or interacted with a majority of African-American Technicians, with only 12 on staff. However, there were 14 African-American Physicists and Chemists at Oak Ridge. The Manhattan Project consisted of less than 8 supervising scientists and President Harry Truman knew the exact date of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nakasaki. Truman was briefed shortly after the death of President Rossevelt.