Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Philip Randolph

Asa Philip Randolph (April 15, 1889 – May 16, 1979) was a leader in the African American civil-rights movement and the American labor movement. He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly Negro labor union. In the early civil-rights movement, Randolph led the March on Washington Movement, which convinced Franklin D. Roosevelt to desegregate production-plants for military supplies during World War II. In 1963, Randolph was the head of the March on Washington, which was 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 Negro community, particularly workers and unemployed Negroes.

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.

At the age of 21 in 1910, Randolph joined the Socialist Party of America. In response to increasing segregation and discrimination against blacks, Randolph shunned moderate reform and racial integration, as advocated by W. E. B. Du Bois. Instead, he emphasized socialism and craft unionism.

In 1917 Randolph and Chandler Owen founded the Messenger with the help of the Socialist Party Of America. It was a radical monthly magazine, which campaigned against lynching, opposed U.S. participation in World War I, urged African Americans to resist being drafted, to fight for an integrated society, and recommended they join radical unions.

Randolph ran on the Socialist ticket for New York State Comptroller in 1920, and for Secretary of State of New York in 1922, unsuccessfully.

Randolph had some experience in labor organization, having organized a union of elevator operators in New York City in 1917. In 1919 he became president of the National Brotherhood of Workers of America, a union which organised amongst African-American shipyard and dock workers in the Tidewater region of Virginia. The union dissolved in 1921, under pressure from the American Federation of Labor. In 1925 Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and was elected president. This was the first serious effort to form a labor institution for employees of the Pullman Company, which was a major employer of African Americans. The railroads had expanded dramatically in the early 20th century, and the jobs offered relatively good employment at a time of widespread racial discrimination. In these early years, however, the company took advantage of the employees. The union helped support The Messenger until 1928, when it needed to use funds for other purposes.

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 finally began to negotiate with the Brotherhood in 1935, and agreed to a contract with them in 1937. This gained employees $2,000,000 in pay increases , a shorter workweek, and overtime pay. Randolph maintained the Brotherhood's affiliation with the American Federation of Labor through the 1955 AFL-CIO merger.

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