The Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO is proud to recognize the accomplishments of African Americans during the month of February which is Black History Month. We are featuring A. Philip Randolph and his involvement as a Labor Organizer and Civil Rights Leader.
Asa Philip Randolph was born April 15, 1889 and passed away on May 16, 1979. A. Philip Randolph was a leader in the African American civil-rights movement and the American labor movement. He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly Negro labor union. In the early civil-rights movement, Randolph led the March on Washington Movement, which convinced Franklin D. Roosevelt to desegregate production-plants for military supplies during World War II. In 1963, Randolph was the head of the March on Washington, which was organized by Bayard Rustin, at which Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have A Dream speech. Randolph inspired the Freedom budget, sometimes called the "Randolph Freedom budget", which aimed to deal with the economic problems facing the Negro community, particularly workers and unemployed Negroes.
Randolph had some experience in labor organization, having organized a union of elevator operators in New York City in 1917. In 1919, he became president of the National Brotherhood of Workers of America, a union which organized amongst African-American shipyard and dock workers in the Tidewater region of Virginia. The union dissolved in 1921, under pressure from the American Federation of Labor. In 1925 Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and was elected president. This was the first serious effort to form a labor institution for employees of the Pullman Company, which was a major employer of African Americans. The railroads had expanded dramatically in the early 20th century, and the jobs offered relatively good employment at a time of widespread racial discrimination. In these early years, however, the company took advantage of the employees. The union helped support The Messenger until 1928, when it needed to use funds for other purposes.
With amendments to the Railway Labor Act in 1934, porters were granted rights under federal law. Membership in the Brotherhood jumped to more than 7,000. After years of bitter struggle, the Pullman Company finally began to negotiate with the Brotherhood in 1935, and agreed to a contract with them in 1937. This gained employees $2,000,000 in pay increases, a shorter workweek, and overtime pay. Randolph maintained the Brotherhood's affiliation with the American Federation of Labor through the 1955 AFL-CIO merger.
Civil Rights Leader:
Randolph emerged as one of the most visible spokesmen for African-American civil rights. In 1941, he, Bayard Rustin, and A. J. Muste proposed a march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in war industries and to propose the desegregation of the American Armed forces. The march was cancelled after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, or the Fair Employment Act. Some militants felt betrayed because Roosevelt's order applied only to banning discrimination within war industries and not the armed forces.
But, the Fair Employment Act is generally perceived as a success for African-American labor rights. In 1942, an estimated 18,000 blacks gathered at Madison Square Garden to hear Randolph kick off a campaign against discrimination in the military, in war industries, in government agencies, and in labor unions. Following the act, during the Philadelphia Transit Strike of 1944, the government backed African-American workers' striking to gain positions formerly limited to white employees.
In 1947, Randolph, along with colleague Grant Reynolds, renewed efforts to end discrimination in the armed services, forming the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service, later renamed the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience. On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman abolished racial segregation in the armed forces through Executive Order 9981.