A. Philip Randolph

Among the organizations I proudly affiliate with is the A. Philip Randolph Institute, named after A. Philip Randolph, Socialist, Labor activist, and Civil Rights pioneer. Randolph believed in the unity of Black and white workers and in the Labor movement, for all its failings, as a vehicle for the advancement of the rights of African-Americans, the majority of whom are working class. Living in Harlem, Randolph was acquainted with the idea of socialism, and he believed in collective action among working and poor people as the means of social change. With Chandler Owen, he founded the magazine The Messenger and in this, Randolph campaigned against lynching and US participation in the First World War; The Department of Justice called The Messenger “the most able and the most dangerous of all the Negro publications.” Randolph remained active in the Socialist Party of America, running for New York State Comptroller in 1920, and for New York Secretary of State in 1922.

In 1925, a group of Pullman sleeping car porters formed a union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and elected Randolph as the union’s president, becoming the first union of African-American workers. The BSCP conducted an organizing drive among Pullman car porters, which the Pullman company resisted; after a ten-year struggle, the Pullman company signed a contract with the BSCP.

As the United States started to enter the Second World War, Randolph, the sole African-American member of the AFL’s Executive Council, campaigned for equal rights for minorities employed in the defense industries, threatening a massive March on Washington; in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8002, which prohibited racial discrimination in military-related industries. Later, Randolph urged Black men to resist the military draft during the Cold War if racial segregation of the military continued; President Harry Truman signed the executive order desegregating the armed forces of the United States.

In 1963, Randolph revived the idea for a massive “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom;” Randolph, as did Martin Luther King Jr., knew that political equality and freedom was incomplete without the economic ability to utilize such freedom. The March on Washington of August 1963, where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech, was to pressure political officials, such as President John Kennedy, to support Civil Rights legislation.

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