A. PHILIP RANDOLPH
Asa Philip Randolph, one of the nation’s most successful African-American labor organizers, was bom in Crescent City, Flori¬ da, where he worked for his father’s tailor shop before completing high school at Cook- manInstitute. He enrolled at the City College of New York, and while there worked enough odd jobs to note the consistent ill treatment of African-American workers.
With a prophetic drive, Randolph attempted to unionize shipyard workers during World War I, though he never suc¬ ceeded. He co-founded the socialist paper The Messenger in 1917 before founding The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters & Maids in 1925. As the first African-Ameri¬ can trade union, the Brotherhood took some 12 years to gain recognition from the Pull¬ man Company.
Organizing labor unions put Randolph in opposition to one of the popular leaders of his day, Marcus Garvey (see no. 46) and his Back-to-Africa movement. Randolph said of him, “What you needed to follow Garvey was a leap of the imagination, but socialism and trade unionism called for rigorous social struggle….” However, Garvey’s popularity inspired Randolph.
Co-founding the Nation¬ al Negro Congress in 1936, and serving as its first president, Randolph began to orga¬ nize the mass demonstrations and parades that had been so effective for Garvey.
He became such a popular public figure that his persuasive promise to schedule a 100,000 person march on Washington in 1941 con¬ vinced President Franklin Roosevelt to issue the first ban on racial discrimination within the military.
Roosevelt’s order allowed a measure of equality in the armed forces, including shared quarters and shared duties, and Randolph realized how powerful mass protest could be.
In 1963, as his crowning achievement, A. Philip Randolph brought 250,000 people to Washington, D.C. to demand freedom and equality in America.
After years of segrega¬ tion, low wages and unequal rights, the crowd who’d come at Randolph’s invitation, was treated to speakers Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (see no. 91), Roy Wilkins (see no. 62), John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and many other celebrities of the movement.
His organiza¬ tional skill had led to a mass gathering of people ready to accept the message of the civil rights movement. Together the nation strove for greater equality in the workforce, and a greater awareness among all Ameri¬ cans. As Randolph once said:
“By fighting for their rights now, Amer¬ ican Negroes are helping to make America a moral and spiritual arsenal of democracy. Their fight against the poll tax, against lynch law, segregation, and Jim Crow, their fight for economic, political, and social equality, thus becomes part of the global war for freedom.”