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APRI History

APRI History

A. Philip Randolph brought the gospel of trade unionism

to millions of African American households. Randolph
led a 10-year drive to organize the Brotherhood of
Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and served as the
organization’s first president.


Randolph directed the March on Washington movement
to end employment discrimination in the defense industry
and a national civil disobedience campaign to ban
segregation in the armed forces.













The nonviolent protest and mass action effort inspired the civil rights movement
of the 1950s and 1960s.









Asa Philip Randolph was born April 15, 1889,
in Crescent City, Fla., the second son of the Rev. James
William Randolph, a tailor and ordained minister in the
African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and Elizabeth
Robinson Randolph, a skilled seamstress. In 1891
the family moved to Jacksonville, which had a thriving,
well-established African-American community.

From his father, Randolph learned that color was less important than a
person’s character and conduct. From his mother, he learned the importance
of education and of defending oneself physically, if necessary. Randolph
remembered vividly the night his mother sat in the front room of their house
with a loaded shotgun across her lap, while his father tucked a pistol under
his coat and went off to prevent a mob from lynching a man in the
local county jail.

Asa and his brother, James, were superior students. The Randolph brothers
attended the Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville, for years the only
academic high school for African Americans in Florida. Asa excelled
in literature, drama and public speaking; starred on the school’s baseball team;
sang solos with its choir; and was valedictorian of the 1907 graduating class.

After graduation, Randolph worked odd jobs and devoted his time to singing,
acting and reading. W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk convinced him
that the fight for social equality was more important than almost anything else.
He moved to New York City in 1911 to become an actor but gave up
after failing to win his parents’ approval. Columbia University student
Chandler Owen shared Randolph’s intellectual interests
and became his close collaborators.






In 1914, Randolph courted and married Mrs. Lucille E. Green, a widow,
Howard University graduate and entrepreneur who shared his socialist
politics and earned enough money to support them both.
The couple had no children.











Randolph joined the Socialist Party and began to harangue the crowds
at Harlem’s soapbox corner (135th St. and Lenox Ave.) about socialism
and the importance of militant class-consciousness. In January 1917,
William White, president of the Headwaiters and Side-waiters Society
of Greater New York, asked them to edit a monthly magazine for the
society, Hotel Messenger. Randolph and Owen dropped “Hotel” from
the masthead and in November 1917 published the first issue of
The Messenger, which soon became known as “one of the most
brilliantly edited magazines in the history of American Negro journalism.”


Their magazine provided an outlet for those who, like Randolph and Owen,
were opposed to both the cautious elitism of the NAACP and the utopian
populism of Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association.
By now established figures in the Socialist Party in New York, Randolph
and Owen embarked on a nationwide anti-war speaking tour in 1918 that
brought them to the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice
and almost got them arrested.

In June 1925, a group of Pullman porters, the all-black
service staff of the Pullman sleeping cars, approached
Randolph and asked him to lead their new organization,
the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Randolph agreed. Besides his abiding interest in and
knowledge of unions, Randolph’s primary qualification
for the job was his reputation for incorruptibility and
the fact that he was not a Pullman Company employee
-meaning the company could not fire him or buy him off.

For the next 10 years, Randolph 
led an arduous campaign
to organize the Pullman porters, which resulted in the certification
of the BSCP as the exclusive collective bargaining agent of
the Pullman porters in 1935. Randolph called it the
“first victory of Negro workers over a great industrial


Since its formation, the policies and programs of the Institute have been
governed by strict adherence to the political values and principles
exemplified by our founder, A. Philip Randolph, 1889-1979.