A. Philip Randolph
Randolph in 1963
Asa Philip Randolph

(1889-04-15)April 15, 1889
DiedMay 16, 1979(1979-05-16) (aged 90)
(m. 1914; died 1963)

Asa Philip Randolph[1] (April 15, 1889 – May 16, 1979) was an American labor unionist and civil rights activist. In 1925, he organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first successful African-American-led labor union. In the early Civil Rights Movement and the Labor Movement, Randolph was a prominent voice. His continuous agitation with the support of fellow labor rights activists against racist labor practices helped lead President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 in 1941, banning discrimination in the defense industries during World War II. The group then successfully maintained pressure, so that President Harry S. Truman proposed a new Civil Rights Act and issued Executive Orders 9980 and 9981 in 1948, promoting fair employment and anti-discrimination policies in federal government hiring, and ending racial segregation in the armed services.

Randolph was born and raised in Florida. He was educated at Cookman Institute, then moved to New York City as part of the early Great Migration, leaving behind the discriminatory Jim Crow–era south. There he became convinced that overcoming racism required collective action and he was drawn to socialism and workers' rights. He unsuccessfully ran for state office on the socialist ticket in the early 1920s, but found more success in organizing for African American workers' rights.

In 1963, Randolph was the head of the March on Washington, organized by Bayard Rustin, at which Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech. Randolph inspired the "Freedom Budget", sometimes called the "Randolph Freedom budget", which aimed to deal with the economic problems facing the black community. It was published by the Randolph Institute in January 1967 as "A Freedom Budget for All Americans".[2]


Early life and education

Asa Philip Randolph was born April 15, 1889, in Crescent City, Florida,[3] the second son of James William Randolph, a tailor and minister[3] in an African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Elizabeth Robinson Randolph, a seamstress. In 1891, the family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, which had a thriving, well-established African-American community.[4]

From his father, Randolph learned that color was less important than a person's character and conduct. From his mother, he learned the importance of education and of defending oneself physically against those who tried to hurt one or one's family, if necessary. Randolph remembered vividly the night his mother sat in the front room of their house with a loaded shotgun across her lap, while his father tucked a pistol under his coat and went off to prevent a mob from lynching a man at the local county jail.

Asa and his brother, James, were superior students. They attended the Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville, the only academic high school in Florida for African Americans.[5] Asa excelled in literature, drama, and public speaking; he also starred on the school's baseball team, sang solos with the school choir, and was valedictorian of the 1907 graduating class.

After graduation, Randolph worked odd jobs and devoted his time to singing, acting, and reading. Reading W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk convinced him that the fight for social equality was most important. Barred by discrimination from all but manual jobs in the South, Randolph moved to New York City in 1911, where he worked odd jobs and took social sciences courses at City College.[4]

Marriage and family

In 1913, Randolph courted and married Lucille Campbell Green, a widow, Howard University graduate, and entrepreneur who shared his socialist politics. She earned enough money to support them both. The couple had no children.[4]

Early career

Shortly after Randolph's marriage, he helped organize the Shakespearean Society in Harlem. With them he played the roles of Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo, among others. Randolph aimed to become an actor but gave up after failing to win his parents' approval.

Randolph in 1942.

In New York, Randolph became familiar with socialism and the ideologies espoused by the Industrial Workers of the World. He met Columbia University Law student Chandler Owen, and the two developed a synthesis of Marxist economics and the sociological ideas of Lester Frank Ward, arguing that people could be free only if not subject to economic deprivation.[4] At this point, Randolph developed what became his distinctive form of civil rights activism, which emphasized the importance of collective action as a way for black people to gain legal and economic equality. To this end, he and Owen opened an employment office in Harlem to provide job training for southern migrants and encourage them to join trade unions.[4]

Like others in the labor movement, Randolph favored immigration restriction. He opposed African Americans' having to compete with people willing to work for low wages. But unlike other immigration restrictionists, he rejected the notions of racial hierarchy that became popular in the 1920s.[6]

In 1917, Randolph and Owen founded The Messenger[7] with the help of the Socialist Party of America. It was a radical monthly magazine that campaigned against lynching, opposed U.S. participation in World War I, and urged African Americans to resist being drafted, fight for an integrated society, and join radical unions. The Department of Justice called The Messenger "the most able and the most dangerous of all the Negro publications." When it began publishing the work of black poets and authors, a critic called it "one of the most brilliantly edited magazines in the history of Negro journalism."[4]

Soon thereafter, the editorial staff of The Messenger became divided by three issues: the growing rift between West Indian and African Americans, support for the Bolshevik revolution, and support for Marcus Garvey's Back-to-Africa movement. In 1919, most West Indian radicals joined the new Communist Party, while African-American leftists—Randolph included—mostly supported the Socialist Party. The infighting left The Messenger short of financial support, and it went into decline.[4]

Randolph unsuccessfully ran on the Socialist Party ticket for New York State Comptroller in 1920 and for Secretary of State of New York in 1922.[7]

Union organizer

Painting by Betsy Graves Reyneau

Randolph's first experience with labor organization came in 1917, when he organized a union of elevator operators in New York City.[7] In 1919 he became president of the National Brotherhood of Workers of America,[8] a union that organized among African-American shipyard and dock workers in the Tidewater region of Virginia.[9] The union dissolved in 1921 under pressure from the American Federation of Labor.

Randolph's greatest success came with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), which elected him president in 1925.[7] This was the first serious effort to form a labor institution for employees of the Pullman Company, a major employer of African Americans. The railroads had dramatically expanded in the early 20th century, and the jobs offered relatively good employment at a time of widespread racial discrimination. But because porters were not unionized, most had poor working conditions and were underpaid.[4][10]

Under Randolph's direction, the BSCP enrolled 51 percent of porters within a year, to which Pullman responded with violence and firings. In 1928, after failing to win mediation under the Watson-Parker Railway Labor Act, Randolph planned a strike. This was postponed after rumors circulated that Pullman had 5,000 replacement workers ready to take the place of BSCP members. As a result of its perceived ineffectiveness, membership in the union declined;[4] by 1933 it had only 658 members and electricity and telephone service at headquarters had been disconnected because of nonpayment of bills.[11]

The BSCP's fortunes changed with the 1932 election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. With amendments to the Railway Labor Act in 1934, porters were granted rights under federal law. Membership in the Brotherhood jumped to more than 7,000. After years of bitter struggle, the Pullman Company began to negotiate with the Brotherhood in 1935, and agreed to a contract with it in 1937. Employees gained $2,000,000 in pay increases, a shorter workweek, and overtime pay.[12] Randolph maintained the Brotherhood's affiliation with the American Federation of Labor through the 1955 AFL-CIO merger.[13]

Civil rights leader

Leaders of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C.

Through his success with the BSCP, Randolph emerged as one of the most visible spokespeople for African-American civil rights. In 1941, he, Bayard Rustin, and A. J. Muste proposed a march on Washington[7] to protest racial discrimination in war industries, an end to segregation, access to defense employment, the proposal of an anti-lynching law and of the desegregation of the American Armed forces.[14] Randolph's belief in the power of peaceful direct action was inspired partly by Mahatma Gandhi's success using such tactics against British occupation in India.[15] Randolph threatened to have 50,000 blacks march on the city;[11] it was canceled after Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, or the Fair Employment Act.[7] Some activists, including Rustin,[16] felt betrayed because Roosevelt's order banned discrimination only within war industries, not the armed forces. Nonetheless, the Fair Employment Act is generally considered an important early civil rights victory.

And the movement continued to gain momentum. In 1942, an estimated 18,000 blacks gathered at Madison Square Garden to hear Randolph kick off a campaign against discrimination in the military, war industries, government agencies, and labor unions.[17]

Following passage of the Act, during the Philadelphia transit strike of 1944, the government backed African-American workers' striking to gain positions formerly limited to white employees.[18]

Leaders of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963.

In 1943, Randolph visited Memphis to launch a personal campaign for free speech after Boss E.H. Crump, a Democratic ally of the president, had successfully used strong-arm and political pressure tactics to drive two prominent local black Republicans, J.B. Martin and Randolph's friend Robert Church Jr., out of the city. After he came to Memphis, Crump denied Randolph venues and intimidated local black leaders into declining speaking invitations by threatening them with jail. When Randolph urged Eleanor Roosevelt, who had friendly political ties with Crump, to do something to counter Crump's "fascist" denial of free speech, she refused. Her reply to Randolph on December 18 read in full: "I referred your letter to a friend of mine when I received it and I am sorry it has not been answered before. I was advised not to do anything, as it might do more harm than good."[19]

Randolph and other activists continued to press for rights of African Americans. In 1947, Randolph and colleague Grant Reynolds renewed efforts to end discrimination in the armed services, forming the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service, later renamed the League for Non-Violent Civil disobedience. When President Truman asked Congress for a peacetime draft law, Randolph urged young black men to refuse to register. Since Truman was vulnerable to defeat in 1948 and needed the support of the growing black population in northern states, he eventually capitulated.[4] On July 26, 1948, Truman abolished racial segregation in the armed forces with Executive Order 9981.[20]

In 1950, along with Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, and Arnold Aronson,[21] a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, Randolph founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). LCCR has been a major civil rights coalition. It coordinated a national legislative campaign on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.

External audio
audio icon National Press Club Luncheon Speakers, A. Philip Randolph, August 26, 1963, 55:17, Randolph speaks starting at 4:56 about the forthcoming March on Washington, Library of Congress[22]

Randolph and Rustin also formed an important alliance with Martin Luther King Jr. In 1957, when schools in the south resisted school integration following Brown v. Board of Education, Randolph and King organized the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. In 1958 and 1959, Randolph organized Youth Marches for Integrated Schools in Washington, D.C.[4] At the same time, he arranged for Rustin to teach King to organize peaceful demonstrations in Alabama and form alliances with progressive whites.[16] The protests, directed by James Bevel in cities such as Birmingham and Montgomery, provoked a violent backlash by police and the local Ku Klux Klan in the summer of 1963, which was captured on television and broadcast throughout the nation and the world. Rustin later remarked that Birmingham "was one of television's finest hours. Evening after evening, television brought into the living-rooms of America the violence, brutality, stupidity, and ugliness of [police commissioner] Eugene "Bull" Connor's effort to maintain racial segregation."[23] Partly as a result of the violent spectacle in Birmingham, which was becoming an international embarrassment, the Kennedy administration drafted civil rights legislation aimed at ending Jim Crow once and for all.[23]

Randolph finally realized his vision for a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, which attracted between 200,000 and 300,000 to the nation's capital. The rally is often remembered as the high point of the Civil Rights Movement, and it did help keep the issue in the public consciousness. But when President Kennedy was assassinated three months later, civil rights legislation stalled in the Senate. In 1964, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Civil Rights Act finally passed. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act passed. King and Bevel deserve great credit for these legislative victories, but the importance of Randolph's contributions to the Civil Rights Movement is large.


Randolph avoided speaking publicly about his religious beliefs to avoid alienating his diverse constituencies.[24] Though he is sometimes identified as an atheist,[4] particularly by his detractors,[24] Randolph identified with the African Methodist Episcopal Church he was raised in.[24] He pioneered the use of prayer protests, which became a key tactic of the civil rights movement.[24] In 1973, he signed the Humanist Manifesto II.[25]


Randolph died in his Manhattan apartment on May 16, 1979. For several years before his death, he had a heart condition and high blood pressure. He had no known living relatives, as his wife Lucille had died in 1963, before the March on Washington.[26]

Awards and accolades

Randolph receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 from President Lyndon B. Johnson.


Randolph had a significant impact on the Civil Rights Movement from the 1930s onward. The Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama was directed by E.D. Nixon, who had been a member of the BSCP and was influenced by Randolph's methods of nonviolent confrontation.[4] Nationwide, the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s used tactics pioneered by Randolph, such as encouraging African Americans to vote as a bloc, mass voter registration, and training activists for nonviolent direct action.[34]

In buildings, streets, and trains

A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, Chicago

Arts, entertainment, and media


See also


  1. ^ "A. Philip Randolph | Biography, Organizations, & March on Washington | Britannica". www.britannica.com. May 12, 2023.
  2. ^ "A Budget for All Americans pdf" (PDF).
  3. ^ a b "Spartacus Educational". Spartacus School. Archived from the original on August 5, 2011. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Pfeffer, Paula F. (2000). "Randolph; Asa Philip". American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  5. ^ Pfeffer, Paula F. (1990) A. Philip Randolph Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 8.
  6. ^ Scott, Daryl (June 1999). ""Immigrant Indigestion" A. Philip Randolph: Radical and Restrictionist". Center for Immigration Studies. Archived from the original on October 31, 2009. Retrieved November 27, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Asa Philip Randolph". Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia: 280. 2009. Retrieved August 28, 2011.(subscription required)
  8. ^ Your History online, accessed August 17, 2010
  9. ^ Crisis, November 1951, p626
  10. ^ Alan Derickson, "'Asleep and Awake at the Same Time': Sleep Denial among Pullman Porters", Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 5: 3 (Fall 2008): 13–44
  11. ^ a b Lubell, Samuel (1956). The Future of American Politics (2nd ed.). Anchor Press. p. 232. OL 6193934M.
  12. ^ Current Biography, 1940, pp. 671–672
  13. ^ Harris, William H. (1982). The Harder We Run: Black Workers since the Civil War. New York. pp. 92.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  14. ^ Foner, Eric (2012). Give Me Liberty!: An American History (3 ed.). W. W. Norton & Company. p. 697. ISBN 978-0-393-93553-0.
  15. ^ Pfeffer (1990), A. Philip Randolph, p. 58.
  16. ^ a b Melvyn Dubofsky. "Rustin, Bayard"; American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  17. ^ "Negroes to Fight Employment Bias". The New York Times. June 13, 1942. ProQuest 106384689.
  18. ^ "Urban League Lauds U. S. Action in Strike". The New York Times. August 14, 1944. ProQuest 106935771.
  19. ^ Beito, David T. (2023). The New Deal's War on the Bill of Rights: The Untold Story of FDR's Concentration Camps, Censorship, and Mass Surveillance (First ed.). Oakland: Independent Institute. pp. 156–158. ISBN 978-1598133561.
  20. ^ "Labor Hall of Fame Honoree (1989): A. Philip Randoph". US Department of Labor. Archived from the original on May 10, 2009. Retrieved November 27, 2009.
  21. ^ "About the Leadership Conference". civilrights.org. Archived from the original on October 27, 2010. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  22. ^ "National Press Club Luncheon Speakers, A. Philip Randolph, August 26, 1963". Library of Congress. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  23. ^ a b Jervis Anderson, Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, p. 244.
  24. ^ a b c d Taylor, Cynthia (2005). A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-8287-3. Archived from the original on March 29, 2012. Retrieved September 22, 2011.
  25. ^ Humanist Manifesto II, 1973, archived from the original on November 8, 2011
  26. ^ "A. Philip Randolph Is Dead; Pioneer in Rights and Labor". New York Times. The Associated Press. May 17, 1979. Retrieved January 14, 2017.
  27. ^ "NAACP | Spingarn Medal Winners: 1915 to Today". NAACP. Archived from the original on April 12, 2020. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  28. ^ John Brown to James Brown – The Little Farm Where Liberty Budded, Blossomed, and Boogied, p. 97.
  29. ^ "Eugene V. Debs Award". Eugene V. Debs Foundation Website. Eugene V. Debs Foundation. September 18, 2017.
  30. ^ "Pacem in Terris Past Recipients". Diocese of Davenport. Archived from the original on July 19, 2019. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  31. ^ "Humanist of the Year Award". American Humanist Association. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  32. ^ Times, Paul Delaney Special to The New York (June 18, 1972). "Black Caucus Adopts 'Realistic' Goals". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  33. ^ "A. Philip Randolph inducted into Civil Rights Hall of Fame by Gov. Scott". First Coast Press. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  34. ^ Pfeffer (1990), A. Philip Randolph, p. 305.
  35. ^ "A. Philip Randolph Heritage Park". City of Jacksonville, Florida. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  36. ^ "M540: New York City High School 540". NYC School Portals.
  37. ^ "Edward Waters College Unveils Exhibit to Honor A. Philip Randolph". First Coast News. Multimedia Holdings Corporation. February 25, 2006. Archived from the original on January 23, 2013. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  38. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 255. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  39. ^ Kersten, Andrew E. (December 21, 2006). A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard. Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 27–28. ISBN 9780742548978.
  40. ^ "22trail-project6-superJumbo.jpg".
  41. ^ "a.-philip-randolph-statue.jpg".
  42. ^ "A. Philip Randolph". New England Historical Society. July 18, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  43. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q. (February 21, 2019). "Black History Trail Makes 200 Stops Across Massachusetts (Published 2019)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  44. ^ "A. Philip Randolph Statue". cryan.com. January 30, 2020. Archived from the original on September 28, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  45. ^ Genai, Shanelle (October 6, 2021). "Colman Domingo, Chris Rock, Audra McDonald, Glynn Turman All Tapped for Upcoming Bayard Rustin Biopic". The Root. Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  46. ^ Hendrickson III, Kenneth E., ed. (2014). The encyclopedia of the industrial revolution in world history. Vol. 3. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 770–771.
  47. ^ "Hall of Honor Inductees". U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved March 11, 2021.

Further reading

  • Jervis Anderson, A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973.
  • Thomas R. Brooks and A.H. Raskin, "A. Philip Randolph, 1889–1979", The New Leader, June 4, 1979, pp. 6–9.
  • Daniel S. Davis, Mr. Black Labor: The Story of A. Philip Randolph, Father of the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Dutton, 1972.
  • Paul Delaney, "A. Philip Randolph, Rights Leader, Dies: President Leads Tributes", New York Times, May 18, 1979, pg. B4.
  • Andrew E. Kersten, A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard. Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.
  • Andrew E. Kersten and Clarence Lang (eds.), Reframing Randolph: Labor, Black Freedom, and the Legacies of A. Philip Randolph. New York: New York University Press, 2015.
  • William H. Harris, "A. Philip Randolph as a Charismatic Leader, 1925–1941", Journal of Negro History, vol. 64 (1979), pp. 301–315.
  • Paul Le Blanc and Michael Yates, A Freedom Budget for All Americans: Recapturing the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in the Struggle for Economic Justice Today. with Michael D. Yates. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013.
  • Manning Marable, "A. Philip Randolph and the Foundations of Black American Socialism", Radical America, vol. 14 (March–April 1980), pp. 6–29.
  • Paula F. Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement (1990; Louisiana State University Press, 1996). ISBN 978-0-8071-2075-0
  • Cynthia Taylor, A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of An African American Labor Leader (NYU Press, 2006). ISBN 978-0-8147-8287-3
  • Summerville, Raymond M. 2020. “Winning Freedom and Exacting Justice”: A. Philip Randolph's Use of Proverbs and Proverbial Language. Proverbium 37:281–310
  • Sarah E. Wright, A. Philip Randolph: Integration in the Workplace (Silver Burdett Press, 1990), ISBN 0-382-09922-2