Dr. Albert Schweitzer, hero or zero?

I had just perused the Stormfront web page and came across this blog quoting the famous and revered Dr. Albert Schweitzer from his 1961 book, From My African Notebook. He is quoted as follows;

Somewhat skeptical, I sought confirmation, but all I got were questionable racist sites, one of which added a statement just previous to the above quote as follows;

Okay, but still no serious confirmation. After googling some biographies of Schweitzer, which had nothing to say on the subject, I hit upon Wikipedia. They claimed that a racist quote attributed to Schweitzer was false as follows;

Well this is Wikipedia after all and one must be careful. So I continued to search and came upon this site The author, after providing the racist quote answers the question “Was Schweitzer a Racist” with a long convoluted apologist dissertation of which I’ll just quote;

I’m still not completely convinced that the quote is authentic, so I seek further confirmation.

But if it is true, don’t you agree that it is time to relegate this 20th century revered philosopher to obscurity . He doesn’t deserve the reverence that he has heretofore recieved.

Sounds like his entire reputation depends on whether the quote is real or fake.

Just wanted to note that in his book Indian Thought and Its Development Schweitzer criticized Aryan Hindu thought as “life-denying” but praised Dravidian thought as “life-affirming” (the highest value in his philosophy). In India, Aryans are stereotypically “white” in skin color while Dravidians are stereotypically “black.”* So at least as far as Hindu thought goes, Schweitzer is on record as considering black people’s philosophy as superior to white.

*In India there are people as white as Europeans and as black as Africans, though most are along the entire continuum of skin color in between. There are no distinct color lines in India in fact.

I think it’s telling that the Schweitzer site didn’t deny the quote. They printed it in full, and then proceeded to dance all around it. Why didn’t they just say, “He never wrote that.”?

Do you feel that same way about Abraham Lincoln?


“I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forbid their ever living together upon the footing of perfect equality; and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.”

“I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject), that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes, if there was no law to keep them from it; but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of the State which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes.”

Does Lincoln get a pass because of his earlier time? When’s the cutoff point?

Based on a single quotation? No. But mostly, I’m skeptical of the quote. The same Wikipedia quotes Schweitzer as saying,

“Who can describe the injustice and cruelties that in the course of centuries they [the coloured peoples] have suffered at the hands of Europeans? . . . If a record could be compiled of all that has happened between the white and the coloured races, it would make a book containing numbers of pages which the reader would have to turn over unread because their contents would be too horrible.”

Unless something is out of context, I have some difficulty believing he made both statements. If Schweitzer had something of a “patronizing” attitude toward Africans, I wouldn’t be surprised. We’re talking about a man born in 1875. That’s not the same as overt racism, however. Unless the racist sites provide a citation for their quotes, I’m inclined to distrust them.

Well. He could have said racist things. He could have believed racist things.

But the man sure as hell never did a damn racist thing that lasted. What he did was a monument to the greatness that humanity can accomplish. A statement made under circumstances we are not sure about, compared to decades of sainthood?

I’m willing to let his goodness and kindness stick around. You?

Is that the one that’s subtitled Stormfront White Pride?

If so, I wouldn’t consider their claims even worth investigating.


Based on a little Google searching, I can’t find this quote posted anyplace except forums, often racist ones. If it’s legit, I find that odd. On the other hand, the non-denial from the Schweitzer page leaves its own questions. Questions about I think we can argue about Schweitzer’s patronizing attitude and racism, if any, the same way we’ve argued about Mother Teresa. Separating their words and actions is probably a good idea.

Such racism would be in opposition to to what seemed to be the core of his beliefs by the time of the publication of his book and the awarding of the Nobel Prize.

Excerpts from his Nobel Lecture:

Since the book is based on his African notebooks and he was in African for such a long time, I guess it is *possible that he could have written the racist comments early in his service there before he grew in his understanding. If he included his own ugliness after his nobility emerged, then that just makes him honest and reflects his growth.

Liberal, you said that his website didn’t deny that he had said it. Did they address the issue at all?

There is absolutely nothing that he could have written or said that would make him a “zero” though. The OP might want to learn to consider the possibility of “shades of gray” in his thinking.

I’ve known about Schweitzer for over half a century now. And this is the first unkind thing I’ve ever heard said about him. I’m all for knowing the truth, but it is going to take more than a rumor and quote from the “Stormfront” of all places :rolleyes: , to change my impression.

They do, in a somewhat confusing way. They quote the passage mentioned in the OP, but I’m not sure if they’re saying he did write it, or if they’re giving it as part of a sample question. It’s lengthy, but here’s a sample:

Thirteen long and rambling paragraphs, nary a word of which disparages the authenticity of the quote, when all that is required is a simple, “Nonsense. Dr. Schweitzer said no such thing.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s clear that he said it, and at least by today’s standards he was certainly racist. But so what? I think that sometimes people look at racism as a sin akin to how others look at homosexuality — something so grave and horrifying that it has its own special circle of hell. Nothing in the quote nullifies the work he did, and many other wonderful things he said.

There’s also an early WWII-era quote from Gandhi in which he praises Hitler.
It doesn’t invalidate Gandhi’s good works.

So, what we have here is an early quote from a great man, espousing an opinion he seems to have changed by the time of his Nobel Prize speech, but does not deny, recognizing it as a part of his early character to the point of publishing it in his collected diary.

People hold opinions. Sometimes they change them. Sometimes they’re honest enough to not hide the old ones.

I am shocked.

Actually, according to the Schweitzer website;

Don’t selectively quote, now.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, winner of the 1952 Nobel Prize for peace, in his 1961 book, From My African Notebook.

So, it was something he wrote in his book, which was from his notebook.

Let’s see if I can find it in his notebook.
Amazon does not allow searching inside that book. I can not find the phrase in his searchable books.
Web: Except for Schweitzer.org, the rest of the sites are craptacular in nature.
Crank through the newsgroups.
People noting that it is from the notebooks… Bunch of cranks treating it like holy writ…
I’m not finding it in larger context anywhere.

Let’s find more out about the man, shall we?


Aha. His thoughts on Africa and Missionaries, at

So… I don’t know. I need to know the broader context, and I need to know the historical condition. Anyone got a copy of the book?

The Flying Dutchman, any comments about my Lincoln post (#4 in the thread)?

If you insist. Not being American or black, Lincoln is not that important to me. He died after all 100 years earlier than Schweitzer, in the middle of the 19th century when racism in America was pretty well the rule.

Schweitzer on the other hand is a citizen of the world who died when I was 15 years old.He is held in the highest regard yet allegedly made this extremely racist remark at the same time as the onset of apartheid in South Africa, which was immediately criticized worldwide yet would be appropriate considering the import of the alleged Schweitzer quote.

I have made a query with Snopes.

With all the college students here, it should be easy for someone to drop by a library and look in the book.

Although, for all of that, he was born in 1875 and raised in a time when such an attitude was not so shocking. Lib is right that this ought to be easy to resolve. Meanwhile, as I keep looking at the Schweitzer page, I think they’re confirming he said it.

Well, the colleges are not very close to my house, but I had an errand that brought me within a few miles of the one branch of our county library that had a copy and I checked it out.

I have just finished reading African Notebook, Albert Schweitzer,
translated by Mrs. C. E. B. Russell.
A Midland Book
Indiana University Press
Bloomington 1958.
Copyright 1939 By Henry Holt And Company, Inc.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Catalog Number: 58-12209
Fifth Printing 1961

Having now completely read the book (it is pretty short) I can state unequivocally that the passages quoted in the OP do not appear in the book. There is no mention of “sub-races.” No passage speaks of “destroying” or “devouring” white men. In fact, while there are many passages that sound a bit paternalistic, the final chapter is an essay that indicates that the white man must meet the black man as an equal and that most of the idiosyncracies that Europeans perceive in Africans are little more than cultural diffrerences imposed by the widely differing living conditions of the two groups.

Once again, those who need to instill hatred and fear have resorted to manufacturing it.