Background and Early Years
Asa Philip Randolph was a prominent 20th century Black civil rights leader, and he was founder of the first Black labor union in the United States. Randolph was born in Crescent City, Fla., on April 15, 1889. He never grew up being "racially internalized," meaning that he never saw himself any less than the White children around him. His father was a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and he moved the family to Jacksonville, Fla., in 1891. In 1911, Randolph moved to the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in hope of becoming an actor.
Randolph's parents objected to his theatric aspirations, so while at the City College of New York, he switched his studies to politics and economics. At City College, he met his future wife, Lucille Green. Lucille was a teacher who had quit that career to open a lucrative beauty salon after her first husband died. But after the married, Randolph's political activities often caused Lucille to lose some customers who disagreed with Randolph’s activism.
Also at City College, Randolph met Chandler Owen, a sociology and political science student attending Columbia University. Together, they were influenced by Hubert Harrison and they formed the radical Harlem magazine, The Messenger, in 1917, which espoused socialist views. Randolph even ran, unsuccessfully, as the Socialist candidate for New York's Secretary of State in the 1921 election.
Randolph had some experience in labor organization, having organized a union of elevator operators in New York City in 1917. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. This was the first serious effort to form a labor union for the employees of the Pullman Company, which was a major employer of Blacks. With amendments to the Railway Labor Act in 1934, porters were granted rights under federal law, and membership in the Brotherhood jumped to more than 7,000 because of this. After years of struggle, the Pullman Company finally began to negotiate with the Brotherhood in 1935, and agreed to a contract with them in 1937. The BSCP won $2,000,000 in pay increases for employees, a shorter workweek, and overtime pay. The Brotherhood was associated with the American Federation of Labor.
Randolph emerged as one of the most visible spokespersons for civil rights. He worked with Martin Luther King Jr., in 1941, and his friends, Bayard Rustin and A. J. Muste to propose a March On Washington protesting racial discrimination in the armed forces. The March was cancelled after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the Fair Employment Act. Some militants felt betrayed by the cancellation because Roosevelt's announcement only pertained to defense industries and not the armed forces. In 1947, Randolph formed the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service; it was later renamed the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience. President Harry S. Truman abolished racial segregation in the armed forces through Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948.
In 1950, along with Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Arnold Aronson, a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, Randolph founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. LCCR became the nation's premier civil rights coalition and has coordinated the national legislative campaign on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.
Randolph helped Rustin and King to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. As the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum in the early 1960s and came to the forefront of the nation's consciousness, Randolph’s rich, baritone voice was often heard on television news programs addressing the nation. Surprisingly, Randolph was also notable in his support for restrictions on immigration.
Awards and Honors
A statue of A. Philip Randolph was erected in his honor in the concourse of Union Station in Washington, D.C.
New York City high school 540, located on the City College of New York campus, is named in honor of Randolph. The school serves students predominantly from Harlem and surrounding neighborhoods.
Randolph's efforts on behalf of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters were portrayed in the Robert Townsend film 10,000 Black Men Named George. The title refers to the demeaning custom of the time when Pullman porters, all of whom were black, were just addressed as "George".
Sources: Jervis Anderson, A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait 1973; University of California Press, 1986; Paula Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement 1990; Louisiana State University Press, 1996; Andrew E. Kersten, A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard, Rowan and Littlefield, 2006; Cynthia Taylor, A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of An African American Labor Leader, NYU Press, 2006.
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Friday, January 11th 2008 at 4:37PM
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