One of the American labor movement’s greatest leaders was Asa Phililp Randolph, who knew what it meant to work hard and persevere.
As a boy, he was a grocery store clerk and newspaper vendor to supplement the income of his father, a minister in the African Methodist Church. When he got older, Randolph laid track for the railroad.
After leaving Crescent City, Fla., for New York City, he worked as an elevator operator and waiter while attending City College of New York. He lost his job while trying to organize a union for waiters on a local railroad. But that setback did not stop him.
By age 28, he was publishing a magazine called the Messenger, which was billed as the “only radical Negro magazine in America.”
In 1925, he began organizing a union called the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a group of railroad employees who worked up to 400 hours a month for a wage of $67.50. Twelve years would pass before he won the union’s first contract, which cut porters’ work hours in half and more than tripled their salaries.
In 1941, Randolph organized a march on Washington to protest discrimination in defense plants. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt yielded to the pressure and signed an executive order banning that type of discrimination.
In 1948, Randolph and other black civil rights leaders fought discrimination in the U.S. military, prompting President Harry S. Truman to order desegregation of the U.S. military.
Randolph also organized the famous 1963 March on Washington, which drew 250,000 people who heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak eloquently of his dreams for America. The march brought pressure to bear on the U.S. Congress. That same year, Lucille Green Randolph, whom Randolph had married in 1955, died the day before his 74th birthday. On the nights when he was home, he read her a chapter from the Bible.
The success of the March on Washington was realized a year later when the Civil Rights of 1964 became federal law.
In September 1967, Randolph was honored in Pittsburgh at a Labor Day Mass where Bishop John Wright presented him with an award for his courageous leadership.