Randolph, Asa Philip


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Randolph, Asa Philip

Asa Philip Randolph played a central role in the drive for Civil Rights for African Americans from the 1920s to the 1970s. He was the most prominent African American labor leader during his lifetime, but his leadership went well beyond the struggle to integrate labor unions. As the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, he confronted U.S. presidents from franklin d. roosevelt to john f. kennedy over the slow pace of civil rights reform.

Randolph was born April 15, 1889, in Crescent City, Florida. He moved to New York City as a young man, where he attended City College of New York. He joined the Socialist party and campaigned against U.S. involvement in World War I, going so far as to attack w. e. b. du bois, one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), for urging African Americans to serve in the armed forces.

His life's work grew out of a request by Pullman car porters to help them organize a union. In the 1920s railroads dominated U.S. transportation. The dining cars, club cars, and sleeping cars of passenger trains were staffed by African American porters, who earned their money primarily from the tips of passengers. Ignored by the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the porters turned to Randolph for assistance.

Randolph sought from the Pullman Company recognition of the union, improved working conditions, and a Minimum Wage. The struggle took twelve years, but Randolph finally achieved these goals. Despite his success the AFL continued to refuse to allow black members.

World War II thrust Randolph into the national spotlight when, in 1941, he demanded that President Roosevelt ban racial discrimination in defense industries. Randolph informed the president that if his demand was not met, he would organize a mass march on Washington, D.C. Roosevelt capitulated, signing an order that integrated industries accepting federal defense contracts and which established the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

The membership of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (now part of the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks) declined in the 1950s, as airlines and automobiles became the dominant modes of long-distance transportation. Randolph continued to ascend, however, as he became vice president of the american federation of labor and congress of industrial organizations (AFLCIO) in 1957.

The only prominent African American to head a union, Randolph refused to act as a mere symbol of racial Integration. He repeatedly urged the AFL-CIO to integrate its unions, earning the displeasure of the organization's leadership, including President George Meany.

Randolph again achieved national prominence for promoting a march on Washington, D.C. In 1963 he called for a march to protest racial discrimination and to demand jobs for African Americans. He later agreed to join forces with other civil rights leaders, including Dr. martin luther king jr., who had called separately for a march on Washington that would focus on the need for civil rights legislation. Randolph was given the job of organizing the march. On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial. More than 200,000 people heard King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and many millions watched on television. Randolph played a central role in this important event.

"I have spent all of my life in the labor and civil rights movements, which is to say that I have spent a lifetime in search of solutions to the problem of race and the problem of jobs."
—A. Philip Randolph

Randolph continued in the 1960s and 1970s to lobby for civil rights legislation and jobs for African Americans. He died May 16, 1979, in New York City.

Further readings

Jervis, Anderson. 1974. A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait. New York:: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Neyland, James. 1994. A. Philip Randolph. Los Angeles: Melrose Square.

Pfeffer, Paula F. 1990. A. Philip Randolph: Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press.

Cross-references

Civil Rights Movement; Labor Union.