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A. Philip Randolph - History of Pullman Porters and creation of the first Black Workers Union
Civil Rights Leader Asa Randolph
Asa Philip Randolph 1889 - 1979
Early in America’s history, many companies did not care about fair wages, safe working conditions, or human rights. So, unions were formed to protect the rights of workers. Asa Philip Randolph was a remarkable civil rights leader. He founded and became the leader of the most powerful Black union in America. Asa Philip Randolph was born in Crescent City, Florida, on April 15, 1889. His mother’s name was Elizabeth and his father, James Randolph, was an ex-slave and a minister. After finishing high school, Asa enrolled in the City College of New York. Randolph loved writing and, with a friend, started a small Black magazine called The Messenger: The Only Radical Negro Magazine in America. The magazine was not a great success. However, it did help form some of Randolph’s early ideas on the evils of prejudice within American businesses. He felt strongly that few blacks received jobs or fair wages. Randolph believed that the government should force the rich and powerful to share their wealth with the poor. He also urged blacks not to fight in the armed forces during World War 1. The Pullman Company operated the nation’s passenger railroad cars. In 1925, it was the largest single employer of blacks in the United States. With over 12,000 black workers, Pullman Company paid each worker about $2.00 per day. Porters, as they were called, took care of the luggage, made the beds, and did the general service work on the trains. They worked as many as 14 hours per day and had to buy their own meals and clothes. Randolph was asked to help organize a union for the porters secretly. On August 25, 1925, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was formed by Randolph. As president, his job was to lead the porters in their demands for higher wages and shorter work hours. The Pullman Company tried to stop the union. This conflict went on for over 12 years. Finally, on August 25, 1937, Pullman’s president told the union that his company was ready to sign. History was made. It was the first time that a work agreement was signed between a black union and an American company. The agreement called for 2 million dollars in pay increases. The union workers also won the right to work only 8 hours per day. This victory made Randolph a very important black leader in America. Later, the Brotherhood union joined the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In 1955, The AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations(CIO). Randolph was named the Vice-President of the AFL-CIO. Thus, he became the highest Black official for the largest union in the world. Between 1940 and 1948, Randolph helped in the desegregation of the armed forces and the federal government. He believed that blacks must form their own groups, choose their leaders, and raise their own money. In August 1963, Randolph led the historic “March on Washington.” It was at this special event that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to over 250,000 people. During his lifetime, Asa Randolph received many honors. In 1941, he received an honorary doctorate degree from Howard University. In 1942, he received the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In 1964, President Johnson gave Randolph the Medal of Freedom. Asa Philip Randolph died on May 16, 1979, following his 90th birthday. Because of his duty to his people, he strengthened both the American labor union and the civil rights movement.
Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage – Black Civil Rights Leaders. This is only a summary of Asa Philip Randolph.