A. Philip Randolph
Asa Philip Randolph was a labor leader and activist who founded the nation’s first black labor union, organized the March on Washington, and helped pave the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Born in 1889 in Crescent City, Florida, Randolph was an outstanding student and graduated at the top of his class. With limited opportunities for African Americans in the South, Randolph relocated in 1911 to Harlem. There he met law student Chandler Owen, with whom he opened an employment office to provide job training for black migrants and encourage them to join trade unions.
Randolph’s first experience organizing workers was with NYC elevator operators in 1917. In 1925 he founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BCSP), the nation’s first predominantly Black labor union to be granted a charter by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Sleeping car porters were typically African American men who were paid less than white workers, worked longer hours, and endured poor working conditions.
While fighting for workers’ rights, Randolph had also gained prominence as an advocate for racial justice. His actions during wartime persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to create the Fair Employment Practice Commission and Truman to desegregate the U.S. military. In 1963, Randolph helped spearhead the historic March on Washington, which saw a quarter million assemble to hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech.” MLK would praise Randolph as never being “afraid to challenge an unjust state power” or to “speak out against the power structure.”
Randolph passed away in Manhattan in 1979 at the age of 90.