Today in Civil Rights History: Birth Anniversary of LCCR Founder A. Philip Randolph

Media 04.15,09

Today is the birth anniversary of civil rights activist and LCCR founder A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979).

Known as one of the greatest Black labor leaders in America, Randolph founded the first African-American-led labor organization chartered by the AFL in 1925 – the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) – to improve the working conditions for porters of the Pullman Company, which was one of the nation’s largest employers of Black workers at the time.

It took Randolph 10 years to get BSCP certified as the official representative of the Pullman porters. Two years later, Randolph helped Pullman employees win a collective bargaining agreement with the company that led to pay increases, a shorter work week, and overtime pay.

In addition to his work with BSCP, Randolph led public campaigns to end racial discrimination in the defense industry and called for integration of the military. Threatening a march on Washington of more than 100,000 citizens, Randolph helped convince President Franklin Roosevelt to sign the first federal law promoting equal opportunity, the Fair Employment Act. Issued in 1941, the executive order banned racial discrimination in the defense industry. Randolph’s activism was also critical in encouraging President Harry Truman to order an end to segregation in the armed forces in 1948.

In 1950, Randolph, along with Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, and Arnold Aronson of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, founded LCCR to allow the civil rights movement to work in coalition to push Congress to pass civil rights legislation.

Randolph’s proposed march on Washington was the inspiration for the 1963 March on Washington where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Randolph became the first African-American vice-president of the AFL-CIO in 1955 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.

Randolph spent his life fighting for equal rights. He was once quoted as saying, “A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.”