A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph (The classic David vs. Goliath epic)

Many of us are familiar with the story of David vs. Goliath, the young boy who slew the giant with a mere stone from a slingshot. Whether you believe this to be a fun story that is told to children or an actual account lifted from the biblical record, there is “a man who looms in relative obscurity” who is truly a personification of young David who stood toe to toe to not only one but several others Goliaths and won. If you care to learn more about this true superhero, read on.

A. Philip Randolph (1889–1979) was a US labor and civil rights leader. His full name was Asa Philip Randolph. Born in Crescent City, Fla., Randolph, believed that unions would benefit African Americans and eventually came to notoriety when he founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1928 and served as its president until 1968. He was a major organizer of the 1941 and 1963 marches on Washington.

I am ever confounded that many in our society know the names and persons of Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, and many other great African Americans. Still, the name of A. Philip Randolph is little known. Why is that? I have my theories. As a 2nd Generation Pullman Porter myself and someone who is committed to studying this man’s life, legacy, and contribution to equal rights and justice for all, I am determined to rectify this gross oversight and bring this great man out of the shadows and into the light.

This modern-day David came on the scene decades before the Civil Rights Movement, which began around 1954. Mr. Randolph sparked positive change in this country with his activism. He continued to fight for legitimacy in the workplace and equal rights for all citizens when big business and government cared little for the rights of the working man. Unlike many others whose lives were cut short through violence, he lived to be 90 years old and outlasted many of his contemporaries with an insatiable hunger for truth and justice to the end of his life in 1979. I will only scratch the surface of A. Philip Randolph’s many accomplishments here, but I encourage you to check the record of this man’s life for yourself.

Meanwhile, the giants are lining up, and Mr. Randolph gathers his stones.

Civil Rights Activism and the March on Washington

In addition to workers’ rights, Randolph had gained national prominence as an outspoken advocate for racial equality. In 1941, he announced a large protest march in Washington, D.C., convincing President Franklin D. Roosevelt to end discrimination in the nation’s defense industries. Roosevelt agreed and responded by issuing Executive Order 8802, which opened war industries in World War II to Black workers and created the Fair Employment Practice Commission (FEPC). As a result, Randolph called off the march. In 1948, Randolph’s activism similarly helped persuade President Harry Truman to desegregate the U.S. armed forces by passing the Universal Military Service and Training Act. Two more giants.