A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph

Asa Philip Randolph was born on April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida, to a Methodist Minister, James Randolph. In 1891, the Randolph family, strong supporters of equal rights for African Americans, moved to Jacksonville.

Randolph spent most of his youth in Jacksonville and attended the Cookman Institute, one of the first institutes to provide higher education to black Americans, in the same city. Randolph went through another migration when, after graduating from Cookman, he settled in New York in order to pursue his acting career.

During his time in the Harlem neighbourhood, Randolph juggled between college and jobs of a porter, elevator operator and waiter, while developing his rhetorical skills simultaneously. The following year, 1912, saw Randolph make his first move into politics by co-founding an employment agency, Brotherhood of Labour, in order to assist black workers.

In 1913, A. Philip Randolph started the Shakespearean Society in Harlem soon after he tied the knot with Lucille Green. Randolph set the building blocks of his acting career in this group only by taking up the lead roles in various productions of the society.

After the success of the Shakespearean Society, its co-founder, Chandler Owen, joined Randolph in another venture called The Messenger, a magazine set out to increase political awareness concerning the black minority. In the magazine, the two men talked about an equal black to white ratio in the armed forces and also called for an increase in wages. During this period of the First World War, Randolph also made efforts to unionize the African-American shipyard workers in Virginia and elevator operators in New York City.

After the war ceased, Randolph served as a lecturer at the Rand School of Social Science. The politician also tried running for office in New York State but could not succeed.

In 1925, Randolph founded the first successful black trade union, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and took his union into the American Federation of Labor during a period when the latter had barred all blacks from admission. The union won its first major contract with the Pullman Company in 1937 but its president withdrew the membership in the following year due to the discrimination within the organization. Randolph then took his union into the federal government.

Being a one-man army, the black leader organized a March on Washington movement in 1941 and succeeded in pressurizing President Franklin D. Roosevelt to put an end to the discrimination present in the industries. After the Fair Employment Practices Committee, Randolph brought another victory to his name by convincing President Harry S. Truman to ban segregation in the armed forces.

Randolph was given the position of Vice President after the AFL and CIO merged, and was also the first President of the Negro American Labor Council from 1960 to 1966 which was founded to avoid discrimination within the joint venture.

Due to his continuous efforts in gaining equal rights for the black community, President Lyndon B. Johnson endowed Randolph with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This honor was followed by the A. Philip Randolph Institute which set out to study the causes of poverty.

Asa Philip Randolph’s 40-year tenure came to an end after his poor health pushed him into resignation from Presidency and also from public life. Randolph spent the first few years of retirement writing an autobiography but his worsening condition prohibited him from completing the task. He died in May 16, 1979 at the age of 90 and his ashes lie interred at his Institute in Washington D.C.

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