Who is Asa Philip Randolph?

Written by PJC Intern, Jack Mulderrig

Asa Philip Randolph was a leading civil rights activist in the fight for racial justice in the United States. A man who was ahead of his time, Randolph enlightened many by claiming that socio-economic advancement was the African American’s ticket to equality and human rights. Randolph’s belief of a redistribution of wealth and his slogan “Jobs and Freedom” could label Randolph the modern day Booker T. Washington. Both leaders agree that through working hard the African American community would improve their social standing. Their belief was that a heightened social status would empower African Americans allowing their voice to be heard and advance progressive policy.

Randolph burst onto the scene during the World War I era. Randolph was opposed to the war. He asked how could America be “making the world safe for democracy … because at times Blacks were being lynched and denied the right vote.” While Randolph was simply claiming that the treatment of African Americans in the United States was inherently undemocratic, he was charged with treason.

After the war Randolph began organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters which eventually became the first labor organization for the further advancement of the black community. In 1919, Attorney General Alexander Palmer labeled Randolph; “The most dangerous negro in America.” In the 1920s and 1930s Randolph stood firm against the “Return to Africa” movement which was very popular amongst the black populace. Instead Randolph reiterated his belief that African Americans could flourish in the United States if the black community united to end discrimination and segregation.

In June of 1941, Randolph applied enough pressure to cause President Franklin Roosevelt to sign an executive order which created the Fair Employment Practices Committee. Regarding the committee, Roosevelt claimed “there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin.” Randolph was relentless in his demands to end racial discrimination. In the late 1940s Randolph faced off against President Harry Truman. In 1947, Randolph helped to establish the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training. As a result of the committee’s activism, President Truman issued an executive order to abolish racial discrimination in the armed forces and in federal service job opportunities.

During the early days of the modern day civil rights revolution was when Randolph experienced his greatest success. He claimed that the African American community had a “Right to Revolution”. In the late 1950s Randolph organized numerous peaceful protests to establish civil disobedience. In 1957, Randolph organized the prayer pilgrimage in support of the civil rights bill and in 1958 and 1959 he organized marches for the integration of public schools. Most believe Randolph’s crowning achievement came in 1963 when he organized the March on Washington. President John Kennedy pressured civil rights activists to cancel the peaceful protest. However, with the help of Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr., Randolph was able to withstand the pressure and continue to mobilize and organize the march. The march was a turning point in the civil rights movement with over 250,000 people joining together for “Jobs and Freedom”. Many attribute the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Building on the success of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Randolph presented the Freedom Budget in 1966. The goal of the budget plan was to overcome economic obstacles that were facing the black and working class communities. Randolph called for $185 billion over a ten year period. Randolph also illustrated seven points that would be the goals of the Freedom Budget.

The first goal was to provide employment. Anyone who was willing and able to work has the right to do so. Also that education or training will be provided to those who need to be employed. Randolph’s second point was that all those who are working shall receive adequate wages. The budget’s third goal was to ensure basic living conditions for those who are unable to work. In the following points Randolph moves away from employment and focuses on the standard of living. The fourth goal was to eliminate slums and ghettos and provide citizens with suitable housing. In Randolph’s fifth point he proclaims that all Americans deserve competent medical care and equal educational opportunities.

In the final two points of the Freedom Budget, Randolph emphasizes the greater good. The focus of the sixth point is to conserve our natural resources and to protect the environment. Randolph’s final goal for the budget was to reward workers when production is high during times of prosperity and to sustain full employment in times of less economic growth.

Even though Randolph was a civil rights leader, his belief in economic change and redistribution of wealth demonstrates that he was committed to the further advancement of all ethnicities. While many of Randolph beliefs may reflect socialist doctrine his true aim was to achieve equality amongst all peoples.