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"Justice is never given; it is exacted and the struggle must be continuous for freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationship." ~A. Philip Randolph

Guiding Questions

  • Who was A. Philip Randolph?

  • How did his work contribute to the Civil Rights Movement?

  • Why did Randolph establish the March on Washington Movement?

  • What was the purpose of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union?

A. Philip Randolph
A. Philip Randolph


Within the late 19th to mid 20th centuries, African Americans began to take action against prejudice, segregation, and inequality within the United States of America. The Jim Crow Laws allowed immense racism to enter the vast society of diverse people. These rigged laws were established to give whites an advantage over African Americans. Fed up with these inhuman rulings, Civil Rights leaders began to lead the stand to fight against the Jim Crow laws.

Asa Philip Randolph (April 15, 1889 - May 16, 1979) played a huge role within the modern Civil Rights movement. With the establishments of the March on Washington Movement and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union, Randolph allowed fairer job opportunities to be present for struggling African Americans.[3] He basically worked his entire life to strive for equality for all African Americans. His diligent devotion has led many figures become inspired to rise up to the challenge of overcoming injustice within the United States.

Early Life

A. Philip Randolph as a young man.
A. Philip Randolph as a young man.
A. Philip Randolph was born on April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida. He was born to James and Elizabeth Randolph, who were both former slaves. James was a minister at the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Elizabeth was an experiences seamstress. Asa learned valuable lessons from his parents, lessons that he would follow throughout his life. Asa learned to judge a person by only his/her character and behavior rather than their physical appearance, specifically skin color, from his father. From his mother, Asa was encouraged to defend himself physically and to excel through education.[2]

Randolph attended the Cookman Institute, along with his brother, in Jacksonville, Florida. Keeping his mother's words in mind, Asa surpassed all expectation academically, particularly in public speaking and drama. Starring in the school's baseball team and achieving individual solos in the school choir, Asa went on to become class valedictorian in 1907.[4]

Asa Philip Randolph founded and co-edited a magazine, The Messenger, in which opposes segregation and the United States' involvement in World War I. This magazine encourages African Americans to fight discrimination and prejudice within the United States and society by joining racial unions.[3]

Brotherhood of the Sleep Car Porters

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

In 1925, A. Philip Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union in an attempt to obtain higher wages and shorter work days. The Pullman Company had consisted of 12,000 African Americans working tirelessly for an average salary of about $2.00 a day.[2] The porters felt that it was unfair how it was mandatory for them to spend some of their time cleaning up after others. They were fed up with by the fact that they had to pay for their food, lodging, and uniforms, which subtracted about half of their earnings and wages. The porters were penalized by paying a fine if their passengers stole a towel or water pitcher. As a result of these unfair aspects, the porters were making enough money to support themselves.[1]

In August of 1925, 500 porters met in Harlem, New York to discuss a possible formation of a union to fight off these unfair rules. They agreed and appointed A. Philip Randolph to lead them. They chose Randolph because he was an outsider and was unknown to the Pullman Company. The union came up with an intriguing motto for their organization, "Fight or Be Slaves". Under the leadership of Randolph, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union were able to reach a bargaining agreement with the Pullman Company twelve years later.[1]

March on Washington Movement

Randolph in Washington D.C.
Randolph in Washington D.C.

The beginnings of the March on Washington Movement occurred when Randolph established the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union and led them to obtain their first "collective bargaining agreement" with the Pullman Company in 1925. The March on Washington Movement was formed by Randolph in 1941. The purpose of this movement was to stress to the U.S. government to give equal job opportunities to African Americans and to bring together the armed forces, instead of segregating them by skin color. Randolph hoped that this movement would help "desegregate" and "protect" all U.S. citizens from prejudice and racial discrimination.[5]

Under the lead of Randolph, 10,000 students marched into Washington, D.C. to attack desegregated schools in 1958.Through his experiences as a child and in the Brotherhood of the Sleep Car Porters, Randolph's leadership provided a "foundation in the March on Washington Movement". His number one priority was to ensure the members of the middle and lower classes in society were satisfied. As more and more people joined the March on Washington Movement, his hunger to gratify and succeed increased. Within the movement, he stated "If it costs money to finance a march on Washington, let Negroes pay for it. If any sacrifices are made for Negro rights in national defense, let Negroes make them..."[5] Randolph eventually helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. As a result of the March on Washington Movement, the White House proposed a "Freedom Budget", which was a ten year program that would eliminate poverty to every individual, regardless of color, within the United States in 1966. A. Philip Randolph passed away on May 16, 1979 in New York, New York. He was 90 years old.[1]


Randolph on Postage Stamp.
Randolph on Postage Stamp.

Throughout the U.S. history of the Civil Rights Movement, A. Philip Randolph was one of the many civil rights leaders whom have left behind a meaningful legacy for the general public. Randolph gave African Americans new hope as he established both the March on Washington movement and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union. Throughout his career, Randolph has positively shaped our nation's democracy by expressing his true emotions and viewpoints of equality among all people. He restored a sense of pride, dignity, and self-worth to his fellow African American followers and inspired others, whom struggled to fight against inequality, segregation, and racial discrimination. His legacy will be forever remembered and will continue to encourage individuals to express themselves freely.


  1. http://www.apri.org/ht/d/sp/i/225/pid/225
  2. http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/randolph.cfm
  3. http://www.nlc.edu/archives/apr.html
  4. http://www.notablebiographies.com/Pu-Ro/Randolph-A-Philip.html
  5. http://www.nndb.com/people/055/00017253

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