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History of A. Philip Randolph

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A. Philip Randolph


A. Philip Randolph was the father of a combined workers’ movement and civil rights revolution that encompassed four decades and five presidencies. In 1925, one of Randolph’s great crusades began – a seemingly impossible test on behalf of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the national union he organized while working out of a Harlem office. The porters worked dreadful hours under degrading conditions for the George Pullman Palace Car Company, a powerful corporation in an age when rail transportation was critical to the country’s growth.

For a salary of less than seventy dollars a month, Pullman porters were expected to perform 400 hours of service; wrote historian William H. Harris. Notoriously anti-labor, Pullman refused to recognize the porters union and retaliated with harassment, firings and the use of company spies. Randolph would not surrender even during the bitter years of the Great Depression as his small union struggled from day to day without funds or public support.

Finally, after 12 years, Randolph got Pullman to sign a contract the first ever reached between a black union and a leading American company. Other victories followed. In 1941, Randolph's plan to stage a massive jobs and human rights demonstration in Washington resulted in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's order to the defense industry to end job discrimination.

In 1948, Randolph convinced President Harry S. Truman to issue an executive order desegregation the military. In 1955 with Dwight D. Eisenhower in the White House Randolph became a national vice president of the newly merged American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. In 1963 during the administration of John F. Kennedy Randolph was the guiding force behind the March on Washington for jobs and Freedom. About 250,000 marchers of all colors and creeds demanded that Congress enact laws that would permit blacks equal entry to the voting booth and workplace.

In 1964, the first federal fair employment legislation included at the insistence of Randolph and the AFL-CIO and became part of the landmark Civil Right Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The significance of Asa Philip Randolph goes beyond pivotal achievements and events. Randolph is a reminder that there remains an underclass of American's, white, brown and red as well as black & who remain outside the scope of reforms of other times, and that today's problems require a new kind of focus and national commitment.

A man of unshakable integrity, Randolph's every action affirmed his love of country and faith in the ability of Americans to secure justice for the weak and forgotten. Fearing no opponent or critic, Asa Philip Randolph never passed the buck. Salvation for a race, nation or class must come form within, he said. The man affectionately called labor's Gentle Warrior died in 1979 at the age of 90.

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A. Phillip Randolph Institute - Tacoma Washington Chapter