Randolph, A. Philip, 1889-1979.
May 17, 1979
A. Philip Randolph Is Dead; Pioneer in Rights and Labor
By The Associated Press
George Tames/The New York Times
A. Philip Randolph, the black labor leader who helped found the modern civil rights movement, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan.
He was 90 years old and had been suffering from a heart condition and high blood pressure for several years.
According to his longtime housekeeper, Fannie Corner, who was with him at the time of his death, Mr. Randolph died in bed at about 3 P.M. in the sparsely furnished fifth-floor apartment at 280 Ninth Avenue, at 27th Street, where he had lived for several years.
The only signs of luxury in the apartment were two black-and-white television sets, a reflection, friends said, of Mr. Randolph's devotion to baseball.
As news of Mr. Randolph's death spread through the civil rights community, tributes began pouring in from many who had drawn inspiration from the man who began to stir the conscience of the nation more than half a century ago.
One of the first tributes came from Mr. Randolph's protege, Bayard Rustin.
Standing in Mr. Randolph's library, where plaques, diplomas and other honors were stacked against the wall, Mr. Rustin, who heads the A. Philip Randolph Institute, declared:
"No individual did more to help the poor, the dispossessed and the working class in the United States and around the world than A. Philip Randolph.
"With the exception of W. E. B. Du Bois, he was probably the greatest civil rights leader of this century until Martin Luther King."
Mr. Randolph had no known living relatives, according to Mr. Rustin, who said plans were being made for cremation to be followed by a memorial from 7 to 9 P.M. Saturday at the headquarters of the Recruitment and Training Program at 162 Fifth Avenue.
A Veteran of Confrontations
By PAUL DELANEY
"Gentlemen, the Pullman Company is ready to sign." That statement by E. F. Carry, Pullman's president, ended a long and bitter struggle to unionize the sleeping-coach company, a battle that propelled a new black leader onto the national scene.
It was A. Philip Randolph who led the small, all-black International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to victory over the powerful corporation, and it turned out to be a significant gain not only for the railroad porters, maids and cooks of the union but also for America's black community. And Mr. Carry's statement, made on Aug. 25, 1937, was a high point in Mr. Randolph's long career as a labor and civil rights leader.
Mr. Randolph was a veteran of confrontations, a graduate of Harlem soapbox oratory who rose from a radical socialist and pacifist background to become a labor leader at a time when labor unions openly espoused antiblack policies and a civil rights movement was virtually unheard of.
There were many who thought that in the twilight of his career, his body pained by illness, Mr. Randolph must have felt frustrated to see what little progress his long fight to change organized labor had produced. But he never publicly said so.
And he must have smiled quietly to himself in later life as he was called conservative by some younger, more militant blacks who came on the scene with different tactics and beliefs--violence and separatism--that he could not accept and who chastised him without knowing his radical past--that of a man who urged blacks not to fight in World War I, who criticized W. E. B. Du Bois for taking the opposite position and whom President Woodrow Wilson called the most dangerous man in America.
But the tall, dignified Mr. Randolph always maintained his composure somehow, with no overt hostility to anyone.
His frustrations did cause him to make a fiery speech in San Francisco at the 1959 convention of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. On the podium later, an angry George Meany turned to the calm Mr. Randolph and asked, "Who the hell appointed you as guardian of all the Negroes in America?"
It was his characteristic quiet dignity that enabled Mr. Randolph to lead confrontations with three Presidents, threatening massive marches on Washington and civil disobedience if those Presidents, who were all extremely popular among blacks, did not take action on behalf of black people.
The first of those challenges came in 1941. Black leaders were seriously concerned about being barred from defense plants at the beginning of World War II. They had little success in moving the defense industry or the Federal Government with speeches, conferences, meetings and verbal protests.
Eventually, Mr. Randolph felt that only President Franklin D. Roosevelt could force the necessary changes through an executive order and that only a massive march by blacks could make the President act.
Date for March Set
Thus, a march on Washington was scheduled for July 1, 1941. The announcement horrified official Washington; the thought of thousands of blacks marching in what was still a Southern city caused near panic. Mr. Roosevelt set about to prevent the march.
The President called on white labor leaders to try to talk Mr. Randolph and other black leaders out of marching. He enlisted Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia of New York, a friend of Mr. Randolph. Even the President's wife, Eleanor, was asked to help. But the effort did not work. The black leadership insisted on a meeting with the President himself.
Besides Mr. Randolph, the leaders of the planned march included Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Lester Granger of the National Urban League; Frank Crosswaith of the Negro Labor Committee; J. Finley Wilson of the Improved Benevolent Order of Elks of the World, and the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York.
When the efforts of Mrs. Roosevelt and others failed to get the blacks to call off the march, President Roosevelt agreed to a meeting, which was held on June 18.
In that meeting, Mr. Randolph told Mr. Roosevelt that at least 100,000 blacks were expected to march. The President at first turned on his charm. He noticed Mr. Randolph's pronunciation of the broad "a" and inquired, "Phil, when did you graduate from Harvard?"
"I never went to Harvard, Mr. President," Mr. Randolph answered.
Executive Order Issued
When the President failed to dissuade the black leaders, he agreed to their demands. On June 25, 1941, six days before the march, he signed Executive Order 8802 and named a Fair Employment Practices Committee to enforce it.
Mr. Randolph called off the march but was denounced for doing so by his more militant followers in the coalition, who accused him of selling out. One of those objecting vigorously was Bayard Rustin, later a faithful follower.
Although the executive order was not observed uniformly, thousands of defense jobs were opened to blacks, and the order set a precedent that some state governments followed.
After the war, black leaders turned their attention to segregation in the armed forces, an issue that they had decided not to press in their confrontation with President Roosevelt. With the nation facing mandatory conscription in peacetime, Mr. Randolph and the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation informed President Harry S. Truman that they wanted him to ban military segregation.
On March 22, 1948, the President met at the White House with black leaders, including Mr. Randolph, Mr. White, Mr. Granger, Mary McLeod Bethune, director of the National Council of Negro Women, and Charles Houston, N.A.A.C.P. legal counsel. The meeting produced nothing.
Civil Disobedience Campaign
This sent Mr. Randolph on a civil disobedience campaign against the draft for segregated armed forces. He pursued his task with the same fervor as his opposition to World War I, when he had urged blacks not to sign up for the draft.
On July 26, 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, a vaguely worded document that never mentioned segregation but indeed banned it in the armed forces. Mr. Randolph called off his civil disobedience campaign, again prompting a bitter complaint from Bayard Rustin and other radical pacifists.
The final confrontation with a President was in 1963, when the ailing Mr. Randolph, who by then was more a symbol than an active participant in the fast-growing civil rights movement, helped organize the biggest demonstration ever by blacks, the March on Washington. His aide, Mr. Rustin, was chief strategist for the coalition that sponsored the march of nearly a quarter-million people.
Once again, a President, this time John F. Kennedy, attempted to dissuade the blacks, but to no avail. The main goal of the march was to push for passage of a civil rights bill. A bill was finally passed the next year, but not before the assassination of President Kennedy and the almost evangelical commitment of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Son of a Minister
A. Philip Randolph was born on April 15, 1889, in Crescent City, Fla., a hamlet outside of Jacksonville. It was one of three communities his father served as minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Two years later the family moved to Jacksonville.
Philip and his older brother, James William Jr., grew up in a relatively intellectual atmosphere, exposed not only to Shakespeare, Scott and Dickens but also to such black heroes as L'Ouverture, Attucks, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner and Douglass. Both boys attended the Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, a Methodist missionary school.
After graduation in 1907, Philip Randolph worked at various jobs before heading to Harlem with a friend in 1911. He took a job as a hall porter at $4 a month and later recalled writing on a wall: "Philip Randolph swept here."
Working at menial jobs, he also enrolled in night courses in English literature and sociology at City College. From the first sprang his lifelong interest in Shakespeare; from the second, his commitment to socialism.
Set Up Employment Agency
During those years he met Chandler Owen, a law student at Columbia University. The two men founded an employment agency in Harlem called the Brotherhood of Labor and made their first efforts to unionize black workers.
In the same building was a beauty parlor managed by Lucille Green, a graduate of Howard University and a former schoolteacher. The dynamic and witty Miss Green and the solemn Mr. Randolph were drawn to each other immediately--they called each other Buddy--and in 1913 they were married.
"For our honeymoon," Mrs. Randolph recalled years later, "we took an open streetcar to South Ferry and back."
In those years the South was wiping out all traces of Reconstruction, using violence, the white primary and the poll tax against blacks to complete their disenfranchisement. Poverty and ignorance ruled in back-country shanties and big-city slums, and the number of lynchings and beatings of blacks increased yearly.
President Wilson's Administration was reducing the number of Federal jobs allotted by custom to blacks, and was imposing segregation in government building in Washington. An extensive migration began from the South. There was pervasive discrimination, and race riots were frequent in the North.
Mr. Randolph and Mr. Owen had founded a magazine, The Messenger, in 1915, with Mr. Randolph as editor. They lashed out at President Wilson. A gifted orator, Mr. Randolph also took his message to the street, his resonant baritone booming from soapboxes from Harlem to black hamlets across the nation.
Once during the street-corner rallies, Mr. Randolph was arrested by the Justice Department on charges of treason for urging blacks not to fight in World War I. The charges were later dropped.
The Pullman porters, listening from the crowds to the tall, forceful speaker, tapped him to organize the union. Since he was not an employee of the company, he could not be fired or harrassed.
The years that followed were made particularly arduous by the rocklike resistance of the Pullman Company and even the labor movement, which was then virtually all white.
But in the signing of the first contract with Pullman in 1937, blacks made the first inroads into the trade union movement. The impact was especially important in the black community: It was greatly encouraging that a small black union had broken the resistance of a corporate giant.
The Chief, as the porters called Mr. Randolph, had succeeded against overwhelming odds. In return they gave him unwavering loyalty.
Instrument of Protest
Mr. Randolph, along with Mr. Owen, had shaped The Messenger into an effective instrument of protest. After the porters were organized, the magazine was renamed Black Worker and centered on making the union recognized in the labor movement and on ending discrimination.
Mr. Randolph, in convention after convention of the American Federation of Labor, spoke out persistently against racial injustice--and futilely. White unionists seemed to think him a nuisance.
When one of his few white allies in the movement, John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers Union, walked out of the A.F.L. and formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations, Mr. Randolph went with him.
After the two labor organizations merged in 1955, Mr. Randolph became the only black representative on the A.F.L.-C.I.O. executive council. But in a further effort to end employment discrimination, he formed the Negro American Labor Council in 1960. Two years later, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. executive council censured him as being "largely responsible" for driving a wedge between blacks and the unions.
Mr. Randolph was undaunted. In an 80th birthday interview, he said:
"My philosophy was the result of our concept of effective liberation of the working people. We never separated the liberation of the white working man from the liberation of the black working man. . . . The unity of these forces would bring about the power to rally to achieve basic social change."
In the 1950's a new generation of black leaders organized a rising tide of demonstrations, North and South. At first they followed Mr. Randolph's precepts of pacifism and nonviolence, and he frequently acted as a counselor on tactics and as a mediator of quarrels.
The next decade saw the growth of black militant nationalism. Young activists challenged the concept of nonviolence, as well as the integrationist ideals of such moderate leaders as Mr. Randolph.
He criticized the neo-black nationalist trend, as he had Marcus Garvey's "back to Africa" movement five decades before. Some nationalists branded him "Uncle Tom," but he answered:
"There must be a continuous quest for identification by the Negro, [but] I believe that can be overcome. And I believe the cult of blackness had been overdone. I wouldn't say it has been successful in putting these forces together."
In 1963, Mr. Randolph announced the establishment of the A. Philip Randolph Institute with a grant of $25,000 from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and $30,000 from other sources. Under the leadership of Bayard Rustin, the institute was given the task of enlisting community leaders in a broad study of conditions that create perpetual poverty.
In 1968, Mr. Randolph stepped down as president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and became its first president emeritus. By then the union, with the decline of rail travel, had only the memory of past glory. And as better jobs opened for blacks, the Pullman porters lost the status they had once enjoyed in the black community. Eventually his union disappeared in a merger into the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks.
Also in 1968, Mr. Randolph moved from the Harlem apartment where he had lived so long to a downtown cooperative apartment owned by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. He busied himself writing an autobiography and a history of his own union, although his health forced him to curtail his activities.
In the last few years, Mr. Randolph lived very quietly in his Chelsea home, making very few public appearances.
Over the years, a porter's union salary, which never exceeded $13,00 annually, had been his main support, with additional money earned from speeches and writings. In the early years, when the union was struggling, he often had to rely on his wife's earnings.
Mrs. Randolph died in 1963, shortly before the March on Washington, with Mr. Randolph in the lead column. He had wanted her to see it. For others, the memory of that event, on Aug. 28, 1963, became one of Mr. Randolph's greatest legacies.
Speech at Memorial
To the 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial, and to millions of others watching on television and listening on radio, the speech of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the most memorable of the day. But when the erect, austere, dignified Mr. Randolph went to the podium, he spoke from experience and emotion that the younger man could little know.
"We are not a pressure group; we are not an organization or a group of organizations; we are not a mob," he declared in a booming but controlled voice.
"We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom. This revolution reverberates throughout the land, touching every village where black men are segregated, oppressed and exploited