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A Philip Randolph

A Philip Randolph

An incredibly influential figure, Asa Philip Randolph combined racial and economic struggles. Civil Rights leaders of later generations, like Martin Luther King Jr., followed the examples he set. He directly helped to usher in the Black middle class. Who was this leader that set the stage for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s?

A Philip Randolph Biography

Born in Florida in 1889, Asa Phillip Randolph grew up the son of a minister in the Black community of Jacksonville. Valedictorian of his high school class, Randolph was a bright young man, but had limited opportunities in the Jim Crow South. He moved to Harlem in 1911, a decade before the Harlem Renaissance. There, he met his wife and began to take classes at the City College. Randolph's wife, Lucille Campbell Green Randolph, was a Howard University graduate that would financially support Asa's full-time activism on the success of the Salon she owned.

US History Asa Philip Randolph StudySmarterFig.1 - A. Philip Randolph

Socialism

Randolph viewed racial issues through the lens of economic issues. New York introduced him to Socialist ideas, which he further developed with his lifelong friend Chandler Owens. Owens was then an economics student at Columbia University, but would later become an important speechwriter for many political figures, ranging from Republican Thomas E. Dewey to Democrat Lyndon Johnson. The pair developed the idea that through Marxist style collective economic action, Black Americans could finally achieve equality. The two worked to help Black workers gain marketable skills and pushed union membership.

The Messenger, 1917

As a vehicle for their Socialist and Civil Rights messages, Randolph and Chandler founded a monthly magazine called The Messenger. The magazine supported many radical causes of the time, like integration and World War I draft resistance, as well as publishing Black literature and poetry. From its beginning in 1917, The Messenger struggled financially. After being evicted from offices twice due to problems paying rent, the magazine finally ran out of money completely and ceased publication in 1928.

Randolph and Chandler were both arrested under the Espionage Act for the magazine's opposition to Black Americans fighting for the United States in World War I when they suffered indignities at home. The judge in the case harbored such strong racial views that he let the men go. Not because he agreed with their point, but because he felt that Black men wouldn't have had the intellectual capacity to write the material. After surmising that White Socialists must have been the true authors of the offending material, the judge felt that Randolph and Chandler were only unwitting victims of a Socialist scheme to sow discontent.

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 1925

Since 1917, Randolph was involved in union leadership, but his career in labor really took off when he organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925, after the 1918 Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Conductors set itself up as an all-White organization. Limited opportunities for Black workers at the time made the position one of the best available for them.

After violence, firings, threats of strikes, and many frustrations, the 1934 Railway Labor Act finally gave the porters the right to organize. After negotiations began in 1935, a contract was signed between the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Pullman Company, resulting in a significant increase in their pay, which helped to bolster the Black middle class.

Porter

An employee who helps with luggage and otherwise assists railroad train passengers.

A Philip Randolph: WWII

Even before the US itself entered World War II, the conflict was an economic boon. Production of war materials to be sent to the belligerents in the conflict was providing many good manufacturing jobs for White Americans.

US History A. Philip Randolph StudySmarterFig.2 - Ranfolf 1943

Despite the need to increase production, Black Americans were not hired due to discriminatory policies. Once the US did enter the war in 1941, Black Americans were still segregated in the armed forces. Many Black leaders resented being asked to defend Democracy when they were often disenfranchised second class citizens in their own country.

A Philip Randolph: March on Washington

Randolph and other Black leaders had met with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt directly about the issue of integrating the US military, but he would not agree to the idea. In response, Randolph and another activist named Bayard Rustin organized marches on Washington, DC in 1941 to demand desegregation in the military and an end to domestic employment discrimination. Although Randolph's proposed march on Washington was called off in 1941, he later organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 to great success.

A.Philip Randolph March on Washington 1963 StudySmarterFig.3 - March on Washington

The plan was to utilize ideas of nonviolent resistance inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, which would later be passed on to Civil Rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. When newspapers were reporting that as many as 50,000 to 100,000 marchers were coming to Washington, DC, an offer was made to end discrimination in federal vocational and training programs. Randolph negotiated to also include ending discrimination in federal defense contractor employment, resulting in FDR's issue of Executive Order 8802 to make the deal official, while Randolph called off the march.

Executive Order 9346 issued by Roosevelt in 1943 built on Randolph's victory by ending discriminatory hiring practices for any federal agency.

A Philip Randolph: Double V Campaign

Many Black newspapers ran articles questioning whether it was worth it for Black Americans to risk their lives in World War II for a country that limited their rights. Roosevelt directly reached out to leaders in the Black press for help with increasing Black interest in military service, resulting in the "Double V" campaign. "V for Victory" was a popular slogan at the time that the Black press attempted to repurpose into the idea that the sacrifices of Black Americans in the war could lead to respect and Civil Rights victories at home. Despite its popularity and swelling of patriotic fervor among Black Americans that the campaign created, the war ended with the same segregated military that it began with.

During this period, Randolph continued campaigning for military and defense industry equality. One speech alone at Madison Square Garden in New York City drew a crowd of 18,000.

Military Desegregation Achieved

The US military was finally desegregated by President Truman in 1948. This was also the work of A. Philip Randolph. Randolph and another activist named Grant Reynold formed the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service, urging Black men to resist the peacetime draft in 1947. Truman agreed to the committee's demands to get the votes of Black Americans as he needed to bolster his tight 1948 reelection race against Thomas E. Dewey. Desegregation of the US military was achieved through Executive Order 9981.

Alliances in the 1950s and 1960s

Now an inspiration to younger leaders, Randolph engaged in a number of important Civil Rights alliances in the 1950s and 60s. He was an organizer of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, bringing together the NAACP, National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, United Auto Workers, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to lobby on behalf of Civil Rights legislation in 1950.

US History President Lyndon Johnson gives A. Philip Randolph the Presidential Medal of Freedom StudySmarterFig.4 - Randolph Recieves Presidential Medal of Freedom

Randolph worked with Dr. Martin Luther King to organize the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957. He organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King gave his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. His organizational skills and principles of nonviolent resistance made him a crucial, if less public-facing, figure as new leaders like King rose. After receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 for his Civil Rights work, Randolph retired from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and public activism in 1968.

A Philip Randolph Death

Randolph passed away of natural causes in the May 1979. For years, he had been suffering heart and blood pressure issues. A number of institutions have been named in his honor.

A Philip Randolph - Key Takeaways

  • Born in 1889 in Florida, Randolph moved to New York City in 1911
  • Became friends with Chandler Owens, developing socialist ideas and launching The Messenger
  • Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925 and in 1937 signed the union contract with the Pullman Company, increasing wages and helping to establish the Black middle class
  • Randolph organized the 1941 March on Washington, cancelled when FDR ended discriminatory defense contractor hiring
  • He helped achieve desegregation of the military in 1948
  • He organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where MLK delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech
  • Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Lyndon Johnson in 1964 before retiring in 1968

Frequently Asked Questions about A Philip Randolph

Randolph was an important labor and Civil Rights leader who organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, fought for military desegregation, and organized the March on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. 

Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, fought for military desegregation, and organized the March on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. 

Randolph's first march on Washington was planned to fight against segregation in the military and racial discrimination in defense contractor hiring practices. 

Randolph contributed to the war effort by fighting to end racial discrimination in defense contractor hiring.

Randolph died of natural causes after long suffering from heart and blood pressure issues. 

Final A Philip Randolph Quiz

Question

What President awarded A. Philip Randolph the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

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Answer

Lyndon Johnson

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Question

What group was A. Philip Ranolph most known for unionzing?

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Answer

Sleeping Car Porters

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Question

What famous speech was delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that A. Philip Randolph organized?


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Answer

"I Have a Dream"

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Question

What was The Messenger?

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Answer

A magazine devoted to radical Black politics and Black literature 

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Question

What was an effect of A. Philip Randolph organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters?


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Answer

Growth of the Black middle class

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Question

Why was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters necessary if the porters wanted union membership?

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Answer

Because the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Conductors was Whites only 

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Question

A. Philip Randolph's Committee on Jim Crow in Military Service pushed which US President to end segregation in the military?


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Answer

Harry Truman

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Question

Why was the plan for A. Philip Randolph's first March on Washington cancelled?

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Answer

Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order ending racial discrimination in federal defense contractor hiring

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Question

What content in The Messenger caused A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owens to be arrested?


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Answer

Questioning Black participation in the US military in World War I 

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