What man do you know of who raised thousands of dollars to go toward the recovery of Dr. Martin Luther King after he was stabbed? What black man do you know of who organized a White House conference to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to end employment segregation? And what man do you know of who helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington, and subsequently became known as “the most dangerous Negroe in America” to the United State government? If none of these descriptions help in identifying this man, A. Philip Randolph is his name.
What Rosa Parks did for the legendary bus boycott, A. Philip Randolph did for labor unions. With every breath in his body, he made sure that all of his life was spent creating change and steering toward equality in the work force.
Throughout the east and south his commitment to change remained thoroughly recognized well into the 70s and 80s.
Born in Crescent City, Fla., Randolph moved to New York City and attended the College of the City of New York.
While there, he worked as an elevator operator and organized his black co-workers into a union. Angered by the treatment of black employees on railroads, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925.
It was the first union of predominantly black workers to be granted a charter by the American Federation of Labor.
When Martin Luther King was stabbed and sent to the hospital on September 20, 1957, Randolph immediately implemented a fundraiser with profits of more than $2,300 going directly toward King’s recovery. King was so moved by this act of sacrifice and kindness he wrote these words to Randolph in a letter:
“Dear Brother Randolph:
Words are inadequate for me to express my appreciation to you for the many gracious things you did for me during my illness. From the moment you came in my hospital room on that dreadful Saturday afternoon to the moment I left New York City you proved to be a real source of consolation to me. Your encouraging words and your great gestures of good will serve as a great spiritual lift for me and were of inestimable value in giving me the courage and strength to face the ordeal of that trying period. I can assure you that I will remember all of these things so long as the cords of memory shall lengthen. I don’t know if you have ever considered writing an autobiography. I certainly hope you will. What you have done and what you have achieved should be placed in a document for generations yet unborn to read and meditate upon.”
An active opponent of discrimination in the military as well, Randolph founded the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation, which pressured President Harry Truman into ending segregation in the armed forces.
These accomplishments, combined with his extraordinary presence, integrity and resolve, enabled Randolph to emerge as the most influential black public figure of the World War II period. He was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom on September 14, 1964. For his outspoken leadership, Randolph’s opponents characterized him as “the most dangerous Negro in America.”
Others are often frightened by those who have power and use it. He used his power with grace, and everything he did was for the greater good of the human race. His legacy lives on through the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum. Its mission is to promote, honor and celebrate the legacy of A. Philip Randolph and contributions made by African-Americans to America’s labor history.
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