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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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Jim Crow Stories

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A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979)
A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph was a trade unionist and one of the major civil rights leaders in America. Born in Crescent City, Florida, the son of a Methodist minister, Randolph moved to Harlem in New York City in 1911 to become an actor. He attended City College at night, and in 1912 founded an employment agency with Chandler Owen that tried to organize black workers. After the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, the two men started a magazine, THE MESSENGER, that called for more jobs in the war industry and the armed forces for blacks.

"Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted."
After the war, Randolph lectured at New York's Rand School of Social Science and ran unsuccessfully for office on the Socialist Party ticket. In 1925, he was asked by a group of porters working for the Pullman Company to establish a union for them. He founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and began organizing porters, facing fierce opposition not only from the Pullman Company, but also from middle-class blacks in Chicago, who did not want to antagonize the company. Randolph and the BSCP struggled with the black community as well as the Pullman Company for 12 years. He also struggled for recognition by the American Federation of Labor, the largest trade union organization in America, as the A.F.L. was hostile to black workers in the trade union movement.

The BSCP won its first major contract with the Pullman Company in the 1930s after the United States Congress passed a law giving unions the right to organize. The Brotherhood was also accepted into the American Federation of Labor. In the 1940s Randolph focused on to the question of black employment in the federal government and in industries with federal contracts. He warned President Franklin Delano that he would lead one hundred thousands blacks in a protest march on Washington, D.C. Roosevelt yielded to the pressure and on June 25, 1941, he issued Executive Order 8802, barring discrimination in defense industries and federal bureaus, and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

After World War II, Randolph founded the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation and pressed President Harry S. Truman to integrate the army. On July 26, 1948, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, banning segregation in the armed forces, partially because of Randolph's pressure, but also because Truman was aware that the black vote was critical to his re-election. When the A.F.L. merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (C.I.O.) in 1955, Randolph became a vice president and member of the executive council of the combined organization. He fought against racism that still persisted in the union. In August of 1963, as the Civil Rights movement was gaining ground, Randolph became a director of the famous March on Washington. More than 200,000 people came to the capital to demonstrate support for civil-rights policies for blacks. It was at this gathering that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

--Richard Wormser

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Historical Documents
Document: Why Should We March?
See a flyer promoting the proposed March on Washington spearheaded by A. Philip Randolph.
Related Pages
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
March on Washington
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