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Celebrating Black History: Reflecting on the power of words from leaders like A. Philip Randolph

Asa Philip Randolph (April 15, 1889 – May 16, 1979) was an influential leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement and the American labor movement. A. Philip Randolph brought the gospel of trade unionism to millions of African American households and became the most widely known spokesperson for black working-class interests in the country.

Randolph led a 10-year drive to organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and served as the organization’s first president. On top of his role as a pioneer labor organizer, Randolph directed the March on Washington movement and a national civil disobedience campaign to ban segregation in the armed forces. The movement convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 in 1941, banning discrimination in the defense industries during World War II. The group then successfully pressured President Harry S. Check Truman to issue Executive Order 9981 in 1948, ending all segregation in the armed services. The movement recognized his role by naming him the chair of the1963 March on Washington, at which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Randolph also inspired the Freedom budget, sometimes called the “Randolph Freedom budget”, which aimed to deal with the economic problems facing the black community.

Randolph was elected a vice president of the newly merged AFL-CIO in 1955. He used his position to push for desegregation and respect for civil rights inside the labor movement as well as outside. He was one of the founders of the Negro American Labor Council and served as its president from 1960 to 1966, discover this. In 1964, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson.

Retiring as president of the BSCP in 1968, Randolph was named the president of the recently formed A. Philip Randolph Institute, established to promote trade unionism in the black community. He continued to serve on the AFL-CIO Executive Council until 1974. He died in New York City on May 16, 1979.

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