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Black History Daily

February 26, 2009

A. (Asa) Phillip Randolphapr4

“Salvation for a race, nation or class must come from within. Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.”

A. Philip Randolph, a black labor movement leader and the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, believed that the key to black progress rested in the black working class. Beyond this, however, Randolph later found that defeating segregation was also an important cause. Although he was much older by this time, it failed to stop him from implementing his idea for one of the most memorable events during the civil rights movement—the March on Washington.

Born and raised in Crescent City, Florida, A. Philip Randolph was the son of a minister. Four years after Randolph graduated as class valedictorian from Cookman Institute, he decided to move to New York City in 1911. At first he attempted to launch an acting career, but he found more success in his academic endeavors at City College.

As Randolph developed intellectually, he began to believe that the black working class was crucial to black progress. With this goal in mind, Randolph joined the Socialist party. Among the other socialist that Randolph began associating with was Columbia University student Chandler Owen.

Randolph and Owen quickly became close friends. In 1917, Randolph and Owen founded the magazine The Messenger. In it, they covered such issues as calling for more opportunities for blacks in the military and it was also used as a forum to criticize the ideas of President Woodrow Wilson, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Randolph eventually saw the need for organizing black workers. Because many affiliates of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) barred blacks from membership, in 1925, Randolph founded and served as President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The organization represented black porters who worked for the Pullman Company. Through the group, Randolph was able to secure a railroad contract with the Pullman Company in 1937.

After the successful negotiation with the Pullman Company, one year later, Randolph put pressure on President Franklin D. Roosevelt to end employment discrimination against blacks in the federal government. Randolph began organizing blacks to march on Washington in protest. On June 25, 1941, President Roosevelt responded by issuing Executive Order 8802, which barred discrimination in defense industries and established the Fair Employment Act.

Next, Randolph turned his attention to discrimination in the military. Randolph was successful again after he pushed for the banning of segregation in the military through his organization the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation. This time Executive Order 9981 was issued by President Harry Truman on July 26, 1948.

Beyond labor concerns and governmental discrimination, Randolph was passionate about equality for blacks. When Martin Luther King Jr. took the lead in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, Randolph immersed himself in the civil rights effort. Randolph’s most notable achievement during the movement was the organization of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The idea for the march, which originated from Randolph’s 1941 idea to march in protest against employment discrimination practices by the federal government, encompassed Randolph’s two passions—labor concerns and civil rights.

In 1968, Randolph’s health began to deteriorate, and he became less active. He died on May 16, 1979.

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