Celebrating Labor Activist A. Philip Randolph

Celebrating Labor Activist A. Philip Randolph

It is Black History Month, and we are happy to kick off this month by exploring five prominent Black labor activists and their achievements. We are going to start this week by discussing A. Philip Randolph.

Early Life

Asa Philip Randolph was born in Crescent City, Florida, on April 15, 1889, to his parents, James William Randolph and Elizabeth Robinson. Randolph was his parent’s second born. They taught both Asa and their older son James Randolph the importance of character, education, and defending themselves against someone who sought to hurt them or their family. As a result, they were both superior students that attended the Cookson Institute in East Jacksonville. It was the only academic high school in Florida for African Americans. Asa excelled in literature, drama, and public speaking. He also engaged in extracurricular activities, including baseball and choir, and he was valedictorian of his class in 1907. 


Upon graduating, Asa worked odd jobs in Florida, but due to the heavy racism and discrimination towards Black people, he moved to New York City in 1911. He continued doing odd jobs while he took social science courses at City College. He also enjoyed singing, acting, and reading. He was inspired to fight for social equality after reading W.E.B. Du Bois’ book The Souls of Black Folk


After a couple of years in New York City, Randolph met and married Lucille Campbell Green in 1913. Lucille was a Howard University graduate and entrepreneur. She also had an interest in socialist politics like Asa. 

Labor Activism

In 1917, Randolph gained his first experience as a labor organizer. He organized a union of elevator operators in New York City. 


In 1919, he was elected president of the National Brotherhood of Workers of America. He was in charge of organizing African American shipyard and dock workers in the Tidewater region of Virginia. 


In 1925, he became the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), the first labor organization led by an African American that received a charter in the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Randolph was in charge of organizing the Pullman Company employees. The Pullman Company was a manufacturing company of railroad cars founded by George Pullman. The railroads had expanded during this time, leading to plenty of work. With the widespread discrimination, the Pullman Company was major in the Black community since they hired many African Americans. But because they were not unionized, George Pullman took advantage, offering poor working conditions, little pay, and long hours. 


Randolph took on a huge task that would require many sacrifices. But his role as president led him to great success. However, it did not come without turmoil and many trials. With the help of labor and civil rights activists Rosina Corrothers Tucker and other porters, Randolph was able to enroll 51% of the porters within a year. But once Pullman caught wind of the porter’s enrollment, they were fired and met with violence. As a result, many were afraid and dropped out of the union. 


The union did not see real change until 1932 when President Roosevelt was elected. Once the 1934 Railway Labor Act was passed, the porters were granted rights under federal law. The Brotherhood membership skyrocketed to over 7,000 participants. In 1935, the organization began to negotiate with the Pullman Company, and in 1937, they came to an agreement. After years of struggling, employees were now able to enjoy a $2,000,000 pay increase, overtime pay, fewer hours, and shorter weeks.

A. Philip Randolph

Greater Victories

The success of the Brotherhood led Randolph to greater victors. Here are some of his accomplishments:


In 1941, he, along with Bayard Rustin and A.J. Muste, proposed and organized the March on Washington Movement. As a result, the Fair Employment Act was passed, but the movement continued to address other issues.

Celebrating Labor Activist A. Philip Randolph

In 1947, he and Grant Reynolds formed the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service, later renamed the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience, which resulted in the abolishment.


In 1950, he founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) along with Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, and Arnold Aronson, a National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council leader.


In 1957, he organized the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom with Martin Luther King Jr.


On May 16, 1979, Asa Phillip Randolph died at age 90 in his Manhattan apartment. He accomplished so much during his lifetime, and because of him and so many more heroic Black Americans, our country is so much better. Be sure to come back next week as we continue honoring more Black labor activists. Subscribe below!


Happy Black History Month!

A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph

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