(1889 – 1979)
Asa Philip Randolph was a Civil Rights pioneer, whose accomplishments spanned more than 50 years. As a young man, he realized that unionizing and organizing African American workers was the best way to fight for increased wages and equal employment opportunities. In 1912 he cofounded the Brotherhood of Labor, which tried to unionize shipyard workers and elevator operators. He founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925, which became the first official African American union in 1937 when it joined the AFL.
During WWII and with the help of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Randolph pressured President Franklin Roosevelt into signing Executive Order 8802 on June 25, 1941; which was the first Executive Order to combat racial discrimination in the defense industry and government. It also formed the Fair Employment Practices Committee to investigate any reports of discrimination. This pre-dated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by 24 years. Following WWII, he pressured President Harry Truman into signing Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, which desegregated the military.
When we think of the march on Washington, August 28, 1963, we tend to think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. However, it was Asa Philip Randolph that organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Dr. King was just one of many speakers who appeared that day. The following year in 1964, Randolph was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Linden Johnson.
IMAGE: Parks, G., photographer. (1942) Washington, D.C. Portrait of A. Philip Randolph, labor leader. Washington D.C, 1942. Nov. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/owi2001014265/PP/.
SOURCES: Reframing Randolph: Labor, Black Freedom, and the legacies of A. Philip Randolph; Edited by Andrew E. Kersten and Clarence Lang; New York University Press; 2015.
A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait; Jervis Anderson; University of California Press, 1986.