A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979)
BROTHERHOOD OF SLEEPING CAR PORTERSActive: Active: 1911 – 1974
“But if American democracy will not defend its defenders; if American democracy will not protect its protectors; if American democracy will not give jobs to its toilers because of race or color; if American democracy will not insure equality of opportunity, freedom and justice to its citizens, black and white, it is a hollow mockery and belies the principles for which it is supposed to stand.”
Met with 5 U.S. Presidents over the course of his life and was called the most dangerous man in America by President Woodrow Wilson.
A. Philip Randolph – an intellectual and a radical thinker – was an American leader and visionary. He understood the intersection between economic justice and civil rights, as he said in his speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, “we want all public accommodations open to all citizens, but those accommodations will mean little to those who cannot afford to use them.”
Randolph grew up the son of a minister in Jacksonville, Florida. After graduating high school, he moved to New York City in 1911, inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois to fight racism and racial discrimination. In 1919, Randolph made his first attempt at organizing African American workers and integrating them into the broader labor movement.
In 1925, impressed by Randolph’s eloquent and forceful arguments and driven by necessity to choose an outsider who could not be fired, the African American porters of the Pullman Company asked him to organize them. The porters of the Pullman Company fought for twelve years for the company to recognize them, and on August 25, 1937 the president of the Pullman Company signed the contract.
Under Randolph’s leadership, the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters became the first African American union to receive an AFL charter in 1935.
Prior to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, Randolph’s work in the 1940s and 1950s laid the important groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement a decade later.
Randolph’s successes against a large corporations and Presidents of the United States encouraged other African American leaders to challenge discrimination on busses, at lunch counters, in the nation’s housing laws, and in the criminal justice system. Within the labor movement, African Americans continued to join unions and take up leadership positions. In the eighty years since the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was given its AFL charter, the labor movement has grown to embrace workers of all nationalities and ethnicities, immigrant and native born.
A. Philip Randolph, who fought so hard to make the labor movement more inclusive, reminds us more than ever that the common bond of labor unites workers more than our differences and that by standing in solidarity, all workers – black and white, immigrant and native-born, building trades workers and service workers – can achieve a more just society.
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