Make your own free website on Tripod.com
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag
US Flag


A. PHILIP RANDOLPH

A. Philip Randolph A. Philip Randolph

Famous for the phrase A quitter never wins and a winner never quits, Asa Philip Randolph is yet another one of those big names in the U.S. civil rights struggle albeit much less talked about. Almost all Americans for example are familiar with the famous 1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedom yet very few realise that it was A. Philip Randolph who spearheaded the march. By the time the march took place, Randolph had already devoted 40 years to the civil rights struggle unlike many others who got into it in the 50s and 60s. He is mostly remembered for organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first labour union for black workers in a white-owned business.

Asa Philip Randolph was born on April 15th 1889 in Crescent City, Florida. His parents James and Elizabeth Randolph named him after the Old Testament King Asa of Judah, who rid his land of idol worship and stayed committed to the Hebrew God Yahweh all his life. His Father James Randolph was a Church Minister in the African Episcopal Church in Crescent City, Florida. James Randolph's parents had been slaves to the wealthy Randolph family of Virginia that was related to Thomas Jefferson.

When Asa Philip was 2, his family relocated to Jacksonville, Florida where his father became Minister of a small congregation. In 1903, then 14 years old, he enrolled at Cookman Institute. Cookman Institute was a high school established by Methodist Missionaries after the American Civil War(1860-65). Many former slaves attended this school and for a long time it remained the only High School for blacks in Florida. He graduated from Cookman in 1907. Eventhough he graduated first in his class, his parents had no money to send him to college. So over the next 4 years, he did menial jobs and in 1911 moved to Harlem, New York. A year later in 1912, he enrolled at City College of New York(CCNY).

It was CCNY that he became actively involved in politics. He was particularly attracted to Socialist politics as a counter for Capitalism, which he felt was the reason for black suffering. Capitalism he thought, concentrated so much of the world's resources in very few hands(whites). He believed this could be corrected only through Socialism which would lead to collective ownership of property and reduce harrassment of the poor by the rich. Eventhough he officially branded himself a Socialist while at CCNY, reports have it that his mind was stirred politically right around 1910 when he stumbled into The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays written by W.E.B. DuBois about the experiences of blacks in America. Eventhough DuBois' essays touched on numerous black issues, he was inspired the most by the one where DuBois attacked Booker T. Washington and other African-Americans who urged their fellow people to settle for "lesser" jobs rather than compete with whites for more technical ones. He was impressed by DuBois' attempt to bring social equality in America. He did not see why an able black person should settle for industrial jobs when he could do well in other technical(white collar) jobs. As a Matter of fact, it was his pursuit for "better jobs" that effected his move from the southern state of Florida to Harlem, New York, where a lot of blacks were already holding white collar jobs.

At CCNY, Randolph took courses in Public Speaking, History, Economics & Political Science. It was also at CCNY that he ran into Lucille Campbell Green, who he later married. Lucille was a wealthy black woman who operated a beauty parlour and even rubbed shoulders with the celebrated Madam C.J. Walker--remembered as being among the first successful black women enterpreneurs. Lucille's cash helped take Randolph out of mennial jobs and concentrate more on his political cause. They were in this together though because they both shared the same passion for their political cause(Socialism). Another important tie Randolph established while at CCNY was in 1914 when he ran into a Columbia University student called Chandler Owen, also a devout Socialist. Randolph and Owen banded together and took their Sociaist campaign to the streets of New York. On one of their speaking engagemnets, they caught the ears of William White, President of a Union of African-American Hotel Waiters. In 1917 White hired the pair to write a magazine for his union called Hotel Messenger. White gave them a free hand to publish anything they saw fit. But the "free hand" they were given turned out to be not so free after all when they criticized the financial imroprieties of some of White's union members. Eager not to offend his union members, White fired Randolph and Owen in August 1917.

In November that same year(1917), Randolph and Owen published a magazine of their own called Messenger with the financial backing of Lucille Campbell. But this were not ordinary times in the U.S. and indeed the world. Times were rapidly changing after the U.S. entry into WWI. Activities of Randolph, Owen and other Socialists were closely being monitored by the U.S. Government. Most Americans at that time, including African-Americans were totally for the war effort. Even ardent U.S. Government critics like W.E.B. Dubois supported the war effort, urging African-Americans to put aside their cause until after the war. DuBois' actual words were, Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy.

So Randolph and other Socialists at that time were out of the mainstream and it was easy for the U.S. Government to cast them in a negative light, as individuals engaging in subversive activities. Randolph and Owen reverted to the common anti-war sentiments arguing that the war only benefitted the weapons companies and that minorities were misguided to fight for democracy in Europe while the same was denied them in the U.S. Eventhough all these were compelling anti-war criticisms, no one at that time was particularly interested in them and in August 1918, Randolph and Owen were arrested while delivering a speech in Cleveland, Ohio. They were charged with violating the 1918 Sedition Act which had been suited specifically for the U.S. involvement in WWI. The Act made it illegal for persons to say, write, or print anything critical of the U.S. Government or Army. For this violation alone, the two were easily looking at 20 years in prison. However in a strange turn of events, when the two were presented before the white Judge, the Judge's racism worked in their favour. The Judge was convinced that the Messenger was so well written that it had to be the work of a white person and that the two were just being used as distributors. He dismissed the charges against the two and kicked them out of Ohio.

In 1920 Randolph and Owen formed the Friends of Negro Freedom, a Socialist discussion group that met at Randolph's house every sunday mornings. Randolph and Owen finally parted ways in 1923 when Owen moved to Chicago to write editorials for an African-American newspaper. His postion at the Messenger was taken by George Schuyler, a member of the Friends of Negro Freedom. In June 1925, Randolph met Ashley Totten, an employee of the Pullman Company who wanted to establish a Workers' Union. This meeting as it turned out, completely altered the life of A. Philip Randolph. The Pullman Company operated trains and its porters(mostly black) helped passengers(whites) get on and off the train and also with their luggage. The porters needed a Union to bargain for their rights and pay, and Randolph seemed to be their man. They looked to Randolph because he was already publishing the Messenger, which the porters thought they could use to push their cause. Its important to note however that eventhough black porters at that time made way less than the average railroad worker in the U.S., it was still "the best job in town" for most blacks. As a matter of fact the Pullman Company often used the same line when criticized about its low pay for black porters.

In August 25th 1925, A. Philip Randolph became President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first black-operated Labour Union in a white-owned business. Eventhough this seems like a casual move to the average reader, it was a bold and very risky undertaking for Randolph because he was not going against your average company. The mighty Pullman Company had both the means and will to crush Randoplh and his union. Randolph and the Brotherhood however managed to stay afloat and in 1929, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters became a member of the American Federation of Labour(AFL). This was in large part to salvage the Brotherhood which was caving in to pressure from the Pullman Company and the recent collapse of their mouthpiece The Messenger. The AFL was a union of Independent Labour Unions who supported each others causes and found strength in numbers. The Brotherhood was seriously in need of such comradry at that point.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters reached a milestone on July 29th 1935 when led by Randolph, its officials sat down with executives of the Pullman Company in Chicago to commence labour negotiations. On August 25th 1937, Pullman and the Brothrhood signed an agreement which among other things gave the porters the largest pay raise they had ever received. This was a huge victory for Randolph who by then many had considered to be waging a losing battle. After this remarkable victory, A.P. Randolph became a force to be reckoned with in the Labour Movement. In 1936 Randolph was elected President of the National Negro Congress(NNC), which was essentially a group of African-Americans who joined forces to combat the problems faced by the community after the Great Economic Depression. He however resigned from the NNC in 1940 citing infiltration by Communists. Eventhough Communists and Socialists shared many ideals like social equality and public ownership of property, he felt Communism and case in question Russia, was far more extreme and stripped citizens of its basic rights. He also thought that Communists within the NNC were more intent in aiding the Soviets in their fight against the U.S. rather than helping poor blacks here at home.

By the time WWII erupted in the late 1930s Randolph's views about America had taken a complete 180 degrees. This time he was prepared to support the U.S. entry into the war. He now believed that it was imperative for the U.S., as a leading world power to step in and prevent injustices regardless of where it happened. He however still had grievances to raise with the U.S. military, grievances he took up with then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He argued that blacks in the military should serve on an equal basis with whites because they were all fighting for the same cause, against a common enemy. He also went on to demand that the federal government bear pressure on Defense industries to enact fair hiring practices, especially as it related to African-Americans. During WWII, military production had skyrocketted but all the jobs were reserved for whites. When President Roosevelt's administration expresed reluctance to meet Randolph's demands, he began planning the March on Washington, DC for military jobs and freedom slated for July 1, 1941.

Eager to prevent this planned march, President Roosevelt invited Randolph to the White House and asked him to call off the planned march. Randolph and his delegates insisted that they could only call off the march if the President gave them a written assurance that he will address their demands. On June 25th 1941 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 which mandated the Federal Government and companies with Defense contracts to hire workers without regards to race, religion or national origin. The Executive Order also established the Fair Employment Practices Committee(later renamed Commission) to investigate Labour complaints. A satisfied Randolph then called off the planned march. In Randolph's own words, Executive Order 8802 was the most significant and meaningful U.S. Government Declaration affecting Negroes since the Emancipation Proclamation. He had succeeded in pressuring a U.S. President, a very popular one by the way, to listen to his peoples' demands!! After this, there was no more doubting A.P. Randolph's abilities as an effective black leader.

In 1942, following his remarkable achievements in 1941, Randolph was awarded the coveted NAACP Spingarn Award. Eventhough President Roosevelt's Executive Order was a monumental step in the right direction, it did little to intergrate the U.S. military. In 1947, Randolph established the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation. In July 1948 at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he again protested military segreagation. Then U.S. President Harry S. Truman ordered intergration of the Armed Forces that same month. Truman's Executive Order also established the fair Employment Board to look into labour complaints(Roosevelt's Commission had been dissolved in 1946). In May 1957 randolph led a prayer Pilgrimage in Washington, DC to call for stronger civil rights law. One of the major players in this pilgrimage was the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr among many others. On October 25th 1958 Randolph led a Youth March to intergrate schools. A second Youth March was held on April 18th 1959.

In 1960 Randolph founded and was elected President of the Negro American Labour Council(NALC) to increase the role of African-Americans in organized labour. He served as NALC President from 1960 to 1966. On April 12th 1963, tragedy befell the Randolph family when his wife Lucille passed away. After his brother passed away, Lucille effectively became Randolph's only souce of love and comfort(they never had kids together). So Lucille's death was obviously a serious blow to him. The strong Randolph however vowed to push on and on August 28th 1963, spearheaded the now famous March on Washington for jobs and freedom that drew a lot of protestors. It was during this event that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr delivered the famous I have a Dream speech. In 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Randolph with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S. Randolph founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute in 1965 and in 1968 resigned as President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. A.P. Randolph died on May 16th 1979 at the age of 90.

Return to the Home Page

Copyright©AfricanTribute.com Inc., 2002
All Rights Reserved

World Banner Exchange Banner
World Banner Exchange BannerWorld Banner Exchange Banner


The Africa Banner Network