Reframing Randolph: Labor, Black Freedom, and the Legacies of A. Philip Randolph 9780814724477

At one time, Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979) was a household name. As president of the all-black Brotherhood of Sleeping

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Reframing Randolph

Culture, Labor, History Series

General Editors: Daniel Bender and Kimberley L. Phillips The Forests Gave Way before Them: The Impact of African Workers on the Anglo-American World, 1650–1850 Frederick C. Knight Unknown Class: Undercover Investigations of American Work and Poverty from the Progressive Era to the Present Mark Pittenger Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915–1940 Michael D. Innis-Jiménez

Ordering Coal: Railroads, Miners, and Disorder in the Gilded Age, 1870–1900 Andrew B. Arnold A Great Conspiracy against Our Race: Italian Immigrant Newspapers and the Construction of Whiteness in the Early Twentieth Century Peter G. Vellon Reframing Randolph: Labor, Black Freedom, and the Legacies of A. Philip Randolph Edited by Andrew E. Kersten and Clarence Lang

Reframing Randolph Labor, Black Freedom, and the Legacies of A. Philip Randolph

Edited by Andrew E. Kersten and Clarence Lang


NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS New York and London © 2015 by New York University All rights reserved References to Internet websites (URLs) were accurate at the time of writing. Neither the author nor New York University Press is responsible for URLs that may have expired or changed since the manuscript was prepared. ISBN: 978-0-8147-8594-2 (hardback) For Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data, please contact the Library of Congress. New York University Press books are printed on acid-free paper, and their binding materials are chosen for strength and durability. We strive to use environmentally responsible suppliers and materials to the greatest extent possible in publishing our books. Manufactured in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Also available as an ebook

This book is dedicated to my daughters, Bethany and Emily, and to my wife, Vickie. —Andrew E. Kersten, Moscow, Idaho For Clarence Earl Lang, Sr. (1949–2013), who, seated behind the wheel of a Chicago Transit Authority bus, was a beneficiary of Randolph’s many legacies. —Clarence Lang, Lawrence, Kansas

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Arlene Holt Baker

1 A Reintroduction to Asa Philip Randolph


Andrew E. Kersten and Clarence Lang

2 Researching Randolph: Shifting Historiographic Perspectives


Joe William Trotter, Jr.

3 A. Philip Randolph: Emerging Socialist Radical


Eric Arnesen

4 Keeping His Faith: A. Philip Randolph’s Working-Class Religion 77 Cynthia Taylor

5 Brotherhood Men and Singing Slackers: A. Philip Randolph’s Rhetoric of Music and Manhood


Robert Hawkins

6 “The Spirit and Strategy of the United Front”: Randolph and the National Negro Congress, 1936–1940


Erik S. Gellman

7 Organizing Gender: A. Philip Randolph and Women Activists 163 Melinda Chateauvert

8 Beyond A. Philip Randolph: Grassroots Protest and the March on Washington Movement 195 David Lucander

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to challenge segregation inside and outside the labor movement. This book also calls on us to reassess the roles that Randolph and the NALC played in pressuring Congress for the passage of our nation’s civil rights legislation and the laws that resulted in President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Johnson’s antipoverty legislation gave me my first opportunity to enter the workforce as a teenager in an after-school and summer jobs program. Working in the Corp of Engineers Acquisition Branch, I made more than the minimum wage and more than my mother made as a domestic. This opportunity helped me embark upon my own journey as an African American woman down the road of labor and social justice activism as a union organizer, and ultimately as the first African American to serve as the Executive Vice President of the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a position that I held from 2007 to 2013. I never had the opportunity to meet A. Phillip Randolph, but the role he played in advocating for and advancing the righteous cause of social and economic justice and his unwavering commitment to speak truth to power both within and outside the labor movement made my walk down the social justice road a lot easier. Daily I am reminded that the struggle to hold on to the social justice gains made by Randolph and others is neverending. The labor movement is more diverse now than in those days when Randolph sat as the lone African American voice around the AFL-CIO Executive Council, but conversations about workers’ rights, civil rights, and issues of race, class, and discrimination are still deeply important. Our more diverse and inclusive labor movement is also determined to do more than continue conversations around justice. At the most recent AFL-CIO convention, we stepped up our efforts to eliminate injustice within and outside our federation for the sake of our movement and the democracy we hold so dear. Just as Randolph fought to organize the Pullman Porters in the 1920s and 1930s, workers today of every ethnicity, every color, every sexual orientation and gender, and every education and skill level struggle to have a voice in the ongoing work for respect on the job and decent wages and benefits. Women today continue the fight for equal pay for equal work, and like the women who were denied a voice at the 1963 March on Washington, they continue the struggle against sexism within the organizations, unions, institutions,

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this writing has been more sympathetic than critical. Yet another body of scholarship, typified by Herbert Garfinkel (1959), William H. Harris (1977), Keith P. Griffler (1995), Melinda Chateauvert (1998), Andrew Kersten (2000), Eric Arnesen (2001), Beth Tompkins Bates (2001), and Larry Tye (2005), has focused on the broader organizational and policy legacies of the black protest vehicles that Randolph helped to build and lead, exploring their impact on subsequent black freedom struggles. Sometimes laudatory, other times critical, these works have highlighted the inequalities of gender and the dynamics of class and race embedded in the practices and politics of the formations in which Randolph was immersed. A final historiographical trend regarding Randolph and his organizations has recently emerged, as evident in a flurry of new work by such scholars as Cynthia Taylor (2005), Clarence Lang (2009), Cornelius L. Bynum (2010), William P. Jones (2010), and Erik S. Gellman (2012), as well as in forthcoming projects by such scholars as David Lucander and Robert L. Hawkins. More thematic in their emphases, these works build on the previous bodies of literature in providing finer grained analyses of the locally oriented and community-based initiatives of Randolph’s national formations, while at the same time decentering and even castigating Randolph himself. Unlike previous historiographical waves, this new trend has explored the religious foundations of his politics and the folk culture discourses from which he drew his rhetoric. In a parallel development, moreover, Randolph has slowly become a fixture in filmic representations of civil rights and labor movements. Archival footage of Randolph has been featured in Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle, the 1982 documentary film about the porters, produced by Jack Santino, as well as in a 1987 episode of Henry Hampton’s Eyes on the Prize PBS series, recounting the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. More recently, California Newsreel has produced a fulllength documentary, A. Philip Randolph: For Jobs and Freedom (1996). Indeed, Randolph has even been portrayed by actor Andre Braugher in director Robert Townsend’s made-for-cable feature film about the BSCP’s early union-building campaign, 10,000 Black Men Named George (2002). Because of the diverse and growing body of work on and about Randolph, then, the moment is ripe for both a reintroduction to him and

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as the emotional support that allowed her spouse to pursue the goal of a more racially, politically, and economically egalitarian society. Their union produced no children, but they would remain dedicated partners for nearly fifty years until Lucille’s death in July 1963. The most important aspects of Randolph’s early career as an activist centered on the publication of his radical magazine, the Messenger, which he created and edited with Chandler Owen, an African-American writer and left-wing radical. In 1925, his efforts to reshape the political culture caught the eye of a young black militant, Ashley Totten, who worked on passenger cars as a porter for the Pullman Company. Life for porters was rewarding but unnecessarily difficult. In an era when higher paying jobs were simply out of the question for most African American workers despite education and “respectability,” employment with the Pullman Company was financially beneficial. In fact, working for Pullman helped many black families reach middle-class status, as well as creating revenue that elevated the economic status of thousands of African Americans. Yet the cost of working as one of George Pullman’s “boys” was that porters had to endure all sorts of prejudice and discrimination while they waited on passengers. To a man, many were known only as “George,” an appellation that denied the porters’ their personal identity and reinforced longstanding expectations of black servility and subordination to white “masters.” Although they received wages, the porters were expected to hustle for tips. Moreover, while they often performed the tasks of conductors (who were always white), they never received similar pay. Porters also resented the omnipresent company spies who harassed them with white glove tests to measure cleanliness. The company took a hard line against unionism, and any talk of organizing resulted in immediate termination. Many porters had tried for years to fight back, but Pullman officials had successfully responded through threats of termination and blacklisting. This was where Randolph came in. As an outsider who had never worked for Pullman, he was not immediately vulnerable to company retaliation. And as a freelance radical seeking a base for creating change, Randolph saw an opportunity to put into action his strong convictions about the promise of black protest, the working class, and unions to remake America. In 1925, Randolph and a cadre of porters formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids (BSCP). Recruiting and retaining

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to focus their attention and energies. Their agenda included two main items: 1) equal employment opportunity; and 2) desegregation of the U.S. armed forces. At the time, African Americans were usually excluded from most jobs except those that were hot, heavy, dirty, and dangerous. Similarly, opportunities for African Americans in the military were severely limited. In the Army, they were segregated into their own separate units, which were led by white commanders. In the Navy, they were assigned only to scullion duties. Prior to the war, there were no African American pilots in the military. Like most black Americans, Randolph was insulted at the self-congratulatory notion that the United States was—as President Franklin D. Roosevelt pronounced—the “arsenal of democracy.” Would a democracy deny the contributions of millions of patriotic, loyal African Americans who wanted to help defend the world in an apocalyptic showdown against fascism? To force President Roosevelt to take action against racial discrimination in American life, Randolph called for 100,000 African Americans to march on Washington on July 1, 1941. The organizational backbone for this march was the BSCP, which was one of the primary underwriters of Randolph’s new black protest project, the March on Washington Movement (MOWM). President Roosevelt watched this development carefully, given that such a demonstration presented a political and diplomatic embarrassment. Moreover, the prospect of even a fraction of the promised 100,000 African Americans protesting racial inequality within the confines of a segregated city presented a danger because whites in Washington, D.C., might respond violently. In the interest of averting a political disaster—and because he was personally more committed to civil rights than almost all of his predecessors—Roosevelt met with Randolph and struck a deal. Randolph agreed to call off his march on Washington, and the president issued Executive Order 8802 outlawing employment discrimination in the defense industries and in civilian agencies of the federal government. To enforce the order, Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC), the first federal civil rights agency since Reconstruction. This temporary New Deal agency became the model for nearly all federal, state, and local civil rights agencies. Nonetheless, Randolph himself suffered the slings and arrows of critics within the black press and of detractors within the

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musicians, and religious leaders. Most famously, this demonstration gave a platform to Martin Luther King, Jr., whose “I Have a Dream” speech has become synonymous with the “golden years” or “heroic period” of America’s civil rights movement. Much of the positive legislative advancements of the 1960s, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, stemmed from this demonstration—the largest in American history to that date—and Randolph’s activism. By the middle of the 1960s, though, Randolph was slowly retiring from public life. The civil rights movement that he had helped create had moved in different directions. The old Socialist no longer seemed relevant, and his ideas about the importance of labor unions seemed out of place and time as America’s urban production centers experienced deindustrialization. Nothing demonstrated this more than the 1968 Ocean Hill–Brownsville controversy, a dramatic community fight over local school control in which Randolph backed unionized white teachers against that city’s grassroots African American activists. This was Randolph’s last major fight. He lived out the rest of his life quietly in New York City under the care of a few close friends, most notably Bayard Rustin (a frequent political partner since the 1940s), until he passed away on May 16, 1979. Although the average American no longer associates the achievements of the civil rights movement with Randolph, he nonetheless transformed politics and society in the United States, and did so through tenacious lobbying and nonviolent direct action. His quiet revolution brought America closer to realizing its cherished democratic ideals, and his life spanned generations of the African American struggle to bring the country closer to its professed democratic, egalitarian ideals. * * * This is the standard—somewhat hagiographic—biography, and it serves as our point of departure. In the chapters that follow, the contributors not only expand the scope of Randolph’s biography, but also challenge some of its central tenets as well as our understanding of Randolph himself. We begin with Joe William Trotter, Jr.’s historiographical essay,

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newly consolidated Communist Party. He also stuck with the Socialist Party despite its mediocre record on the issue of race relations. Yet, by the late 1920s, as radicalism faded from the political scene, Randolph turned his attention to other matters, including building a new union. Nonetheless, the lyrical days of Randolph’s youth provided him with the intellectual and rhetorical skills to fight the Pullman Company and challenge several U.S. presidents and a nation to live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. They also provided him with a political outlook based not on convenience but rather conviction. In her contribution, Cynthia Taylor explores an often overlooked and dismissed aspect of Randolph’s personal and philosophical convictions: Christianity. Randolph grew up in a household and community dominated by African American religious traditions, especially those of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His parents were people of deep faith, and Taylor maintains that so, too, was their second son, who, like their first, bore a biblical name. There was a time after his move to New York City when Randolph professed to be an atheist. After his radical years, however, Randolph returned to his previously held beliefs, though the charge of atheism—often used by his critics— stuck. Thus, Taylor provides a powerful corrective, illustrating not only Randolph’s religious beliefs but also how he integrated them into his civil rights work and labor organizing. Randolph’s knowledge of, and popular appeals to, African American religious traditions helped him build the BSCP and assemble the March on Washington Movement. Taylor argues that his use of Christian imagery and thoughts was neither crass nor shamelessly exploitive. Rather, she argues that akin to Martin Luther King, Jr., Randolph was an adherent of a social gospel that expanded Americans’ understanding of its ethics and imperatives by infusing it with Gandhian principles relating to direct action and nonviolence. Further, Randolph’s credentials for religious activism did not end with World War II. Indeed, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he continued to expand relationships among civil rights activists, labor, and religious leaders alike. In addition to political and religious allegiances, Randolph had clearly defined ideas about gender and culture. As Robert L. Hawkins argues, Randolph was quite conscious of stereotypes and conventions of manliness, and in seeking to culturally manipulate them in order to

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organizers had conflicting loyalties to skilled artisans and the semiskilled and unskilled workforces of the mass-production industries. Gellman shows that Randolph, with his radical political credentials and his growing stature in the AFL, was the man of the hour to lead the NNC and unite forward-thinking unionists and political activists. Yet, the center did not hold. Randolph’s own failings as a leader, coupled with the centrifugal forces driving the split between the AFL and CIO and his longstanding feuds with Communists, spelled doom for Randolph’s participation in the NNC, which itself was weakened greatly by his departure. Randolph went on to establish his own vehicle for civil rights and still worked toward erecting big tents to shelter his allies and amass a political campaign. As Gellman concludes, Randolph’s coalition groups, such as the March on Washington Movement, were under his direct control—for better and for worse. Aside from his intellectual commitments, his tireless organizing, and his political achievements, we at times see another Randolph in this volume—one who was less progressive, more hierarchical, and far less willing to challenge some political and social conventions of his day. Melinda Chateauvert demonstrates that although Randolph was supportive of women’s equality, his focus remained on African American men and their ability to enjoy the privileges of first-class citizenship. To Randolph, these notions translated directly to his approach to organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the March on Washington Movement. Women were instrumental: They helped to provide the funding, to organize the rallies and speaking engagements, and to perform the office work. As Chateauvert chronicles, women were there, but Randolph wanted them to aspire to the respectful secondary roles that that white women, especially those among the upper classes, enjoyed. Chateauvert frames her essay around the notions of manhood rights and dignity, and how the intersection of race and gender influenced Randolph’s choice to maintain rigid sex-based roles for men and women in his various political projects. This outcome was not merely a product of his epoch or of his generation. Rather, placing women in important roles—even though they were defined by sex—ironically reflected a commitment to their active involvement that was not shared by all civil rights and labor leaders. Even so, Randolph easily dismissed and disregarded the work of his women leaders. Nonetheless, the

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for civil rights reform and greater democracy within the AFL-CIO. Fair and full employment, open housing laws and ordinances, equal access to public accommodations, equality in education, and voting rights topped the organization’s concerns—although, as Jones describes, black women activists had to publicly disrupt the NALC’s founding convention in order to have their interests included and their leadership acknowledged. From this standpoint, the NALC inspired a new generation of civil rights workers while continuing the work begun by civil rights activists at the turn of the twentieth century. Similarly, the NALC continued the battle within the house of labor. Randolph’s nemesis, AFL-CIO president George Meany, begrudgingly gave ground to his long-time union brother. As Jones illustrates, Randolph successfully positioned the NALC on a national stage in order to pressure Meany and the AFL-CIO into support for civil rights. The critical moment came in 1963 when the NALC spearheaded the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Afterwards, Meany and the AFL-CIO gave their formal support to President Kennedy’s civil rights bill. Thus, despite tensions that arose among civil rights and labor activists within the NALC, Randolph’s last civil rights organization was as successful as it was short-lived. The fissures in the civil rights movement that were already generally evident in the early 1960s—and specifically inside organizations such as the NALC—led to cracks and collapses in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Younger activists separated themselves from older ones, and while some maintained their adherence to nonviolence, others adopted strategies of armed self-help. Some sought to keep ties with the labor movement, while many appealed to black nationalist sentiments of group solidarity, independence, and sovereignty. As Jerald Podair writes, all of these issues and more were at the center of the Ocean Hill–Brownsville controversy. Randolph, for his part, had to choose between those in the civil rights movement who were advocating local control and race-centered solutions to the educational and community crises in New York City, and those who were committed to the teachers’ union. In backing the latter, Randolph set himself apart and never regained the stature he once held among black freedom activists. He was not able to make a big tent of liberals and radicals on the Left to collectively solve the problems in New York City. His goal of an interracial, interdenominational,

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its president serve as a troubling example of the discrimination against black working-class women on the basis of gender as well as race and class. To our eyes, Randolph’s record was mixed, but he was clearly conscious of the gendered nature of his organizations and politics. Overall, this emergent scholarly emphasis on autonomous, internally contradictory forms of black working-class organization and mobilization has been reflected in the diverse perspectives captured in this volume. Collectively, they represent vital efforts to reconstruct, resituate, and expand narratives of black working-class institution-building, community formation, and politics beyond the narrow lenses of both whitedominated trade unionism and middle-class–dominated black civil rights activism. We hope that this volume engages a wide variety of scholars, especially those outside history proper. In the interdisciplinary field of Black Freedom Studies, a cohort of scholars including Timothy Tyson (1999), Simon Hall (2005), Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard (2003), Robert Self (2003), and Thomas Sugrue (2008), has sought to dramatically rethink the composition of leaders and participants, periodization schema, and regional foci identified with African American social movements in the twentieth century. Theorizing a “long” civil rights movement encompassing working-class leadership as well as middle-class stewardship, female domestic workers as well as black male clergy, the 1930s and 1970s as well as the 1950s and 1960s, grassroots local movements in the Northeast, Midwest, and the Pacific West, as well as in the South, and Cold War international as well as U.S. domestic landscapes, these historians and social scientists have challenged definitions of civil rights struggles as being concerned only with public accommodations, de jure discrimination, and the vote below the Mason-Dixon line during the decade between the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1954 and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In the process, they have sparked timely debates and conflicting interpretations about the meanings, goals, and legacies of “black freedom struggles”—a flexible term simultaneously enveloping and surpassing a range of legislative reforms typically associated with the “classical” 1954–1965 period of modern civil rights activism. From a “long” perspective, the sheer length of Randolph’s public career also makes him a handy symbol of a movement that spanned

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rights organizations. Scholars in a competing intellectual camp contend that Randolph’s anticommunism contributed actively to the isolation of black antiracists associated with the Communist Left and to the destruction of insurgent black labor radicals and coalitions whose militancy exceeded his own. From this standpoint, the story of the Negro American Labor Council, for example, has to be framed partly within the context of the earlier destruction of the National Negro Labor Council (NNLC) and the labor movement’s general purge of suspected “subversives” during the late 1940s and early to mid-1950s. In this vein, Randolph was a villainous accomplice in demobilizing the trade union movement as a socially transformative agent in the United States and in retarding the emergence of post–World War II black mass direct action against U.S. racial apartheid. As this line of argument goes, he became a reactionary who, by the late 1960s, stood in opposition to strains of working-class radicalism during the period of Black Power. Finally, Randolph’s legacy speaks to contemporary times. The past several decades have witnessed the contraction of organized labor, the deterioration in the conditions of the black working class, and the plummeting living standards of U.S. workers across the board. Similarly, an understated consequence of the recent domestic economic crisis has been its disproportionate effects on African Americans, as evident in the plummeting wealth and overall implosion of the post–civil rights black middle class. Thus, the current moment is a strong and poignant rebuke to the politics Randolph espoused, and signals an erasure of the reforms to which he devoted his life for nearly fifty years. At the same time, recent events—most significantly the battles waged in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin by public- and private-sector employees against union-busting austerity—have renewed the visibility of organized labor, brought greater immediacy to labor history, and reasserted the salience of working-class political discourses. As historian Robert O. Self and others have contended, black workers have been pivotal in challenging social and economic inequalities and imagining more democratic alternatives for the whole of society. Not surprisingly, the decline of organized labor’s power and influence was closely tied to the postwar retreat of a labor-liberal alliance from issues of racial justice. At our own contemporary moment, when we are witnessing the possibility of a reenergized labor-centered popular politics, we have much to

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Company offered black workers, mostly ex-slaves, one of their earliest alternatives to employment in the land, where a hostile southern elite was determined to reclaim full authority over the labor of black people. Almost from the outset, the porter’s job became “practically a Negro monopoly.” Despite the job’s connection to enslavement and “servility” in the minds of Pullman and the traveling white public, it provided higher wages and better working conditions than most work open to southern black men until the onset of World War I, the Great Migration, and the expansion of job opportunities in mass production firms.3 Spero and Harris also outlined a broad litany of African American complaints against the Pullman Company. The Black Worker underscored the porters’ painful and ongoing struggles with low wages, dependence on tips, long hours, and uncompensated work; performance of conductor’s work at porter’s pay; collateral occupational expenses that came out of their own pockets (uniforms, shoe polish, food, etc.); and lack of adequate time for rest or sleep during long runs. Even so, Spero and Harris concluded that such grievances were insufficient for most porters to join Randolph, build a strong union, and challenge Pullman to increase wages and improve working conditions and on-the-job treatment. “The porter’s contact with the well-to-do traveling public led him to absorb its point of view and to seek to emulate its standards. . . . It gave him a thrill to have bankers and captains of industry ride in his car. . . . It made him feel like a captain of industry himself, even if it did not make him affluent or ease the burden of his work. Even a vicarious captain of industry is rather poor trade-union material.” Moreover, in their view, Randolph’s economic radicalism blinded him to three interrelated facets of early twentieth- century black life that undercut his organizing effectiveness: “(1) the Negro’s orthodox religious traditions; (2) the growing prevalence of Negro middle-class ideology [as reflected in the politics of the black press, elected officials, and ministers of leading black churches]; and (3) racial antagonism between white and black workers.” Equally important, according to The Black Worker, Randolph overemphasized the utility of publicity and neglected long-range planning and the day-to-day work of the BSCP. “If it were his purpose to win recognition from the Pullman Company too much publicity was likely to strengthen the company’s determination not to yield, because yielding in the glare of publicity would be a

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the truth, and the truth shall set you free’ was the heading for most of the bulletins sent out by national headquarters of the Brotherhood and is now used on the cover page of the Brotherhood’s publication, The Black Worker.”5 Brazeal rejected Spero and Harris’s negative assessment of Randolph’s leadership and the BSCP’s potential to achieve its goals. Despite the dire straits confronting the Brotherhood as the Depression deepened, a decade later Brazeal described the BSCP as “an efficiently managed international labor union  .  .  . proof that Negro workers under Negro leaders are capable of building a union that reflects a genius in organization and leadership. . . . Brotherhood leaders are not motivated by a vague theoretical appreciation of collective bargaining techniques because everyday they deal with problems that deepen their insight as labor leaders.” Perhaps most importantly, the Brotherhood led a large number of black workers into the American Federation of Labor (AFL) at a time when the AFL and the Big Four Brotherhoods (i.e., the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Brakemen, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, and the Order of Railway Conductors) maintained strict racist attitudes and practices toward black workers. The BSCP served as “an entering wedge, which has been effectively used to challenge the prejudices and inhibitions of several internationals in their reactions to Negro workers. Aside from competitive factors which would drive the Federation to seek Negro members, the constant hammering away by the Brotherhood at its shortcomings has been a decided force in increasing its disposition to extend more considerations to Negro workers.”6 Drawing more inspiration from Brazeal than from Spero and Harris, When Negroes March by historian Herbert Garfinkel carried the story of Randolph and the BSCP forward into the 1940s and 1950s. Focusing on the March on Washington Movement (MOWM) and the politics of the federal Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC), Garfinkel reinforced Brazeal’s principal arguments regarding the efficacy of Randolph’s leadership. Citing Spero and Harris’s The Black Worker, Garfinkel underscored and challenged the widespread and continuing proposition that Randolph was “incapable of running an efficient organization by those who viewed organizational talents strictly in administrative” terms. Behind the “erroneous claim that Randolph had

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with AFL-CIO president George Meany in 1959 and the launching of the Negro American Labor Council (NALC) in the same year. The NALC aimed “to fight and work for the implementation and strengthening of civil rights in the AFL-CIO and all other bona fide unions.”9 In short, Anderson promoted the expanding national, labor-centered, civil rights leadership stature of Randolph as the modern black freedom movement intensified. Similarly, in his narrative political biography of Randolph, also published in 1972 and based partly on his close association and friendship with Randolph, Daniel Davis dubbed Randolph “Mr. Labor . . . Father of the Civil Rights Movement.”10 Whereas Anderson reinforced the long-run trajectory of Randolph from labor activist and BSCP spokesman to modern civil rights leader, Theodore Kornwiebel’s No Crystal Stair revisited Randolph’s early Messenger years and applauded him as an activist political journalist. Specifically, Kornwiebel lauded the Messenger (coedited with Chandler Owen) for providing an alternative radical interpretation of African American life at a time when even the most progressive organs of the black press failed to fully articulate the deep-seated and bitter resentments of poor and working-class blacks. The persistence of class and racial inequality through the early years of the Great Migration angered growing numbers of young black urbanites. As African Americans’ dissatisfaction with their condition escalated, as did their political militancy, the Messenger gave a radical voice to virtually every major event impinging on the lives of blacks during World War I and the 1920s. Over an eleven-year period, the periodical exposed and debated such topics as government repression of black radicals; cultural pluralism and black nationalism; Africa and internationalism; unemployment and labor unions; electoral politics; and civil rights and race leadership.11 Based upon the Messenger’s extraordinary record of radical black journalism, No Crystal Stair emphasized how Randolph and the BSCP leadership understood the limits of interracial political alliances and the pivotal importance of economics in the struggle for political rights. Large and small business leaders, the press, philanthropic organizations, political leaders, and the government had proved themselves unreliable allies in the struggle for social justice and economic democracy for poor and working-class blacks. In order to wage a successful fight for full human and civil rights, African Americans had to secure

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this point, according to Keeping the Faith, the earlier pioneering work by Spero and Harris offers “no evidence” to support its proposition that black porters would not have honored their pledge to strike. Furthermore, given the conditions of peak summer travel at the time and the impending election-year national conventions of the two major political parties, Harris maintains that such a strike might very well have succeeded if Randolph had not followed the urgings of the AFL to call it off. In Harris’s view, the movement of the BSCP was also “a journey of faith, faith in their leader and faith in their cause.” Randolph, Webster, and others, Harris said, “kept the faith, and they won.”14 By defining their struggle as part of the larger fight of organized labor as well as the increasingly strident demands of African Americans for full citizenship rights, Harris shows how the BSCP not only helped to transform the U. S. labor movement but also changed the politics and civil rights struggles of the black community. Encouraged by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition and the enactment of new labor legislation outlawing company unions, Randolph, his associates, and the BSCP together gained the right to bargain collectively on behalf of black workers and entered the predominantly white house of labor (i.e., the AFL) as a full-fledged member. The Brotherhood became both a union and a broader political movement and tackled discrimination by both the company and organized labor. It also became the chief instrument urging the larger black community to place “labor organizations—and solidarity in general” at the forefront of African American advancement efforts. Although Randolph and his associates billed themselves as “New Negroes,” they were by no means entirely integrationists. They accepted white philanthropic support, professional expertise, and endorsements, but they insisted that the BSCP leadership remain in African American hands. It was their capacity to function in this vein that allowed Randolph and the BSCP to emerge at the forefront of the World War II–era March on Washington Movement that produced Executive Order 8802, established the federal Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC), and helped to spearhead the emergence of the modern black freedom movement.15 During the closing years of the twentieth century and the opening of the new millennium, a fresh wave of Randolph and BSCP scholarship built upon the richest base of documentary evidence to date. Recent

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a-religiosity or “atheism,” stretching from Spero and Harris’s The Black Worker through World War II and beyond. Most prevailing accounts of Randolph’s leadership ideology cast him as a “doubter” or as areligious. Randolph’s own rhetoric during the most radical phase of his career as a labor and civil rights leader reinforced this view. Moreover, as coeditor of the Messenger during World War I and the 1920s, Randolph adopted an outlook that seemed to question the value of organized religion. The Messenger opposed “all creeds of church and social orders” that hampered the fight for social justice. “Freedom is my Bride, Liberty my Angel of Light, Justice my God.”18 In her model study of Randolph’s religious ideas and commitments, however, historian Cynthia Taylor shows how Randolph’s leadership ideology and career as a labor radical and civil rights activist were deeply rooted in his African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church background. Taylor locates Randolph’s religious sensibilities in the household of his AME parents (his father was a minister) and their ongoing engagement with the day-to-day life of their community. Theirs was a religion that preached self-defense as well as salvation. On one occasion, Randolph witnessed how his mother and father determined to use armed force if necessary to thwart the lynching of a black man accused of sexually molesting a white woman. Taylor persuasively argues that Randolph imbibed the elements of a religious culture that took the form of a “social gospel,” eschewing the tradition of “getting religion” for the hereafter in favor of an activist faith aimed at changing conditions in this world. Upon arriving in Harlem, Randolph blended the ideas of the Socialist Party with his own convictions growing out of his southern cultural, social, economic, and political experiences. Over the course of his long career, Randolph’s religious sensibilities and commitments continued to inform and fuel his political activism. Randolph helped to build a solid base of support for black porters among the black clergy during the 1930s; initiated “prayer protests” as part of the March on Washington Movement for defense industry jobs during World War II; and linked the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to the prayer pilgrimages of the 1950s. Following the exceedingly successful prayer pilgrimage of 1957, Randolph formally rejoined the AME church. At the same time, Taylor concludes, the African American church of the 1950s also recovered its “militant social conscience,” and rejoined Randolph.19

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youth marches on Washington, D.C., to speed up the desegregation of schools during the 1950s.Together, these efforts fueled the emergence and spread of the modern social justice movement that eventually helped to shatter the larger Jim Crow edifice.21 Whereas Pfeffer emphasizes the emergence of powerful interracial alliances in the post–World War II years, historian Beth Bates analyzes the process by which Randolph and the BSCP built networks of support within the black community and helped to transform an often anti-union constituency into an indispensable ally. Basing her research on the BSCP campaign to organize Pullman porters in Chicago, the company’s backyard, Bates convincingly argues that previous studies of the BSCP failed to systematically analyze the relationship between the BSCP and the larger black community. In careful detail, she shows how Randolph and the BSCP gradually built “protest networks” from the ground up. Through the work of black clubwomen (particularly the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Club), the union’s Citizens Committee for the Brotherhood, and a series of labor conferences following the aborted strike of 1928, the intra-racial alliance building activities of the BSCP gradually gained widespread community-based support. This support included the influential Chicago Defender as well as a wide range of religious, civic, and social service organizations (including local branches of the National Urban League and NAACP), as reflected in the rise of the National Negro Congress (NNC) and later the MOWM, although Randolph soon resigned as president of the NNC following disputes over the role of the Communist Party in the organization. Bates convincingly argues that community networks represented “the connective tissue between the porters’ union and the politics of the black community.”22 Another theme in recent historiography is a recurring effort to pinpoint the role of Randolph and the BSCP in the transition of African American politics from an earlier largely dependent “clientage politics” to a new independent politics of protest. According to historian Cornelius Bynum, for example, by the end of World War II, Randolph had evolved a philosophy of social struggle that incorporated notions of “interest group politics and mass action” in the larger civil rights and political struggles of black people in mid-twentieth-century America. In Bynum’s view, these ideas built directly on Randolph’s foundational

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female relatives of porters. Twentieth-century studies of African American women’s history, most notably Deborah Gray White’s Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves (1999), examine the connection between the women of the BSCP and established middle-class African American women’s organizations. Having pursued extensive primary research on the subject, White shows how the porters’ Ladies Auxiliary pressed its members’ middle-class counterparts into greater action on behalf of the black working class. Following a meeting with the National Council of Negro Women, Auxiliary president Helena Wilson wrote to the secretary treasurer of the BSCP unit: “I attended a session of the Council’s Convention . . . and I was not very satisfied with the discussions given to the lower income working groups.” When women answered the call for help from Randolph and the BSCP, they embraced the ideas of manhood and manhood rights as part of the larger ongoing struggle for full human rights. Yet women’s indispensable support of the BSCP did little to lessen the gender barrier within the union or the workplace. Melinda Chateauvert’s Marching Together offers the most detailed critique of women and gender issues in the BSCP. Chateauvert documents the constraints that gender as well as class and racial conventions and social practices imposed on black women within the union as well as the union’s women’s auxiliary. Although women provided indispensable support to the union, they nonetheless confronted a series of limitations and slights. As Cheateauvert notes, “The Ladies’ Auxiliary was the distaff side of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  .  .  . Randolph’s propaganda stressed black manhood rights, calling for better working conditions, a family wage, respect from fellow workers, and equal citizenship. But for men to achieve manhood, women must be feminine; Brotherhood rhetoric depicted women as admiring wives, rarely noting their pivotal role in the twelve-year struggle for unionization.”24 In addition to the Ladies’ Auxiliary, some two hundred black women also worked as maids, car cleaners, and “porterettes” for the Pullman Company. Maids belonged to the union, paid dues, and suffered reprisals (including firings) for their union membership and activities. Still, not only did male members of the Brotherhood make it difficult for maids to adopt the notion of “manhood rights” on their own behalf as workers, but female members of the Auxiliary also refused to endorse

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women had been central to sustaining the union since its inception.” In her book on post–World War II New York City, Martha Biondi offers a telling assessment of the strains and conflicts between Randolph and the labor movement beyond the BSCP, namely the National Negro Labor Council (NNLC). Formed in 1950–1951, the NNLC, Biondi persuasively argues, bridged “Black-labor left formations of the 1940s and those of the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond, such as the Negro American Labor Council and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.” Others have examined Randolph’s legacy in social politics. In this area, for example, historian Andrew Kersten explores the question of FEPC politics at the regional level through the lens of local community-based politics. As he puts it, “The experiences of the FEPC in the Midwest highlight the interconnections between the federal government, national associations, and community organizations.”26 Other scholars have focused critical attention on the complicated relationships involving Randolph, the BSCP, and black nationalists and radicals. In addition to Randolph’s relationship with Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA),27 a significant body of scholarship, including biographical studies of W. E. B. Du Bois and Hubert Harrison, probe Randolph’s relationship with other black activists, including members of the Communist Party. Historian Minkah Makalani opens a new window on the history of black radicalism by challenging earlier understandings that tie the subject of black internationalism to the history of the Communist Party. As he succinctly states, his book “deploys diaspora as an analytic to rescue radical black internationalism from the narrative sutures of international communism.” In his innovative transnational study of twentieth-century liberation movements in India and the United States, historian Nico Slate advances the goal of a new historiography of black internationalism. Employing the notion of “colored cosmopolitanism,” Slate reinforces the tie between Randolph’s religious sensibilities and his radical politics. Randolph not only “framed the lessons of Gandhi as Christian in spirit and American in practice,” but also “imagined a mass-based Gandhi satyagraha grounded in colored cosmopolitanism and led by an all-Black organization in partnership with white liberals and Gandhian activists.” Slate shows how, following Gandhi’s initiation

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inhere in a temporary economic order; whereas the roots of race-consciousness must of necessity survive any and all changes in the economic order.”30 In 1925, when Randolph helped to launch the all-black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids and promoted trade unionism as the principal vehicle for the economic emancipation of black workers, the path ahead remained open and full of alternative possibilities. While Randolph had vehemently eschewed Garvey and the UNIA’s brand of black nationalism in favor of labor solidarity, as head of the Brotherhood he increasingly supported a notion of race pride and racial unity that echoed Garvey’s ideas about race pride, beauty, and the intelligence of black people.31 Following Randolph’s break with the NNC over the issue of Communist Party influence in the organization, his anti-Communist stance became legendary. In early 1941, despite Communist Party attempts to stymie the effort, the March on Washington Movement, under the leadership of Randolph and the BSCP, resulted in the creation of the FEPC and growing efforts to desegregate the nation’s defense program. In the aftermath of World War II, African Americans confronted the limits of struggle using established fair employment commissions. They renewed their efforts to build independent all-black labor unions like the National Negro Labor Council and intensified demonstrations against employment discrimination. Because of the NNLC’s close association with the American Communist Party, however, it became the focus of a vigorous wave of Cold War–inspired attacks from Randolph, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assailed as a tool of the Soviet Union, the NNLC declined after about 1956. In the meantime, as historian Will Jones notes in his award-winning essay on the MOWM, while early postwar black trade unionists “failed to sustain links between civil rights and labor activism at the national level,” local efforts in such diverse cities as Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and Detroit resulted in the forging of “a powerful coalition of civil rights and labor activists,” as well as inspiring the formation of the Negro American Labor Council in 1959. The NALC strengthened links between African American labor struggles and the expanding nonviolent direct action movement for change in all aspects of African American life. Following his election as president, Randolph underscored his renewed commitment to militant labor and civil rights

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significance. Available records now include the collected papers of Randolph himself; a fuller set of Pullman Company records at the Newberry Library in Chicago; and, perhaps most important, a large and impressive roster of oral interviews with grassroots, rank-and-file porters and maids as well as previously little known female leadership figures like Rosina Carrothers Tucker, a porter widow and former president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the BSCP. Recent scholarship not only examines Randolph’s abiding commitment to economic justice for black workers and full citizenship for black people, but also explores his notion of “manhood” and “manhood” rights and questions of gender equity for black men and women. Moreover, in addition to revisiting and reinterpreting Randolph’s religiosity and the role of African American religious culture in shaping his political ideology, contemporary scholarship also underscores Randolph’s and the BSCP’s global connections and influences, including particularly the impact of Gandhi’s notion of satyagraha and of the Indian independence movement on the MOWM. By carefully building upon previous generations of scholarship as well as an expanding range of sources and conceptual approaches, contemporary research enables a new and more comprehensive understanding of Randolph, the man; the union; and the modern black freedom movement. Notes

1. Sterling D. Spero and Abram L. Harris, The Black Worker: The Negro and the


3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Labor Movement, (1931; repr. New York: Atheneum, 1968), 398, 459. For an excellent synthesis of recent scholarship on Randolph and the BSCP, see Andrew E. Kersten, A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006). Kersten also provides a comprehensive bibliography of secondary and primary sources on the subject. Spero and Harris, The Black Worker, 430–60; Brailsford R. Brazeal, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: Its Origin and Development (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1945); and Herbert Garfinkel, When Negroes March: The March on Washington Movement in the Organizational Politics for FEPC (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1959). Spero and Harris, The Black Worker, 430–31. Ibid., 399–-401, 431–37, 459–60. Brazeal, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 21–24, 39–40, 42–56. Ibid., 233. Garfinkel, When Negroes March, 8–9, 118.

42  43 24. Bynum, A. Philip Randolph, xi, 72–74; Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Pro-

test Politics, 10; and Chateauvert, Marching Together, xi.

25. Chateauvert, Marching Together, xii, 39, 54–55, 60–61, 83, 197. 26. Clarence Lang, Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Strug-

gle in St. Louis, 1936–75 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), 34–35; Andrew E. Kersten, Race, Jobs, and the War: The FEPC in the Midwest, 1941–46 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 3; Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 256–68; and Kimberley L. Phillips, AlabamaNorth: AfricanAmerican Migrants, Community, and Working-Class Activism in Cleveland, 1915–45 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 12, 121, 182, 193, 238. 27. Ula Y. Taylor, The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jaques Garvey (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 42, 149, 160, 174, 207; Colin Grant, Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 89, 109–10, 139–40, 348–49, 363–64; Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Dover, MA: The Majority Press, 1976), 22–66, 110–50, 273–343; Judith Stein, The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society (Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 1986), 7–23, 108–52, 223–72; and Robert A. Hill, ed., The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vols. 1–3 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983 and 1984). 28. Minkah Makalani, In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917–1939 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 11, 32, 34–35, 105–06, 121–23; Nico Slate, Colored Cosmopolitanism: The Shared Struggle for Freedom in the United States and India (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 2–3, 213–14; David L. Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919–1963 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000), 57–60, 468–69; Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894–1994 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), 160–75; Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883–1918 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009); Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem during the Depression (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 13–14, 181–83, 287, 295–97; Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), 36–59; and Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: Free Press, 1996), 103–21. 29. Anderson, A. Philip Randolph, 83–119; Perry, Hubert Harrison, 296–99; Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, 6–44; Taylor, A. Philip Randolph, 37–125; Harris, Keeping the Faith, 26–65. For a succinct but scathing critique of Randolph’s legacy, see the essay by Manning Marable, “A. Philip Randolph & the Foundations of Black American Socialism,” Radical America 14, no. 2 (1980): 6–32. As the studies under review in this essay suggest and the editors of this volume note, most Randolph

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was indeed possible. The positions he advanced put him at odds not only with the U.S. government and American economic institutions but also with black conservatives, civil rights militants, black nationalists, and the small but vocal Communist movement as well. Despite hostility from the Right and Left, Randolph staked out provocative political positions and maintained his intellectual independence throughout the tumultuous era of the Great War and its aftermath. Asa (as he was called as a boy) was born in Florida in 1889, the child of a self-educated, poor itinerant minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, James W. Randolph, and his wife, Elizabeth Robinson Randolph.5 The Randolph household inculcated two enduring traits in Asa. The first was a passionate commitment to education, which Asa and his older brother, James, acquired from multiple sources. Outside of formal schooling, they attended Sunday school and evening church class meetings and received tutoring from neighbors. (“By the time we got to school,” Randolph remarked in 1966, “we had the equivalent of a primary school education.”) Their out-of-school education covered the spectrum from religion and history to politics and current events. Whatever the subject, the subtext of race was never far from the surface. “Reading the Bible aloud was as much a part of the routine of our home as suppertime,” Asa recounted. But the biblical history Asa and James were steeped in challenged racially traditional accounts. “Jesus Christ was not white,” the Reverend Randolph would tell his sons. “Angels have no color. God has none.” He repeatedly emphasized the simple “historic fact that Jesus Christ, God, Moses, Peter, Paul and the great characters of the Bible weren’t white as pictured, but were colored or swarthy.” Reflecting back upon his father’s stories, Asa never knew if his father was aware of what he called the “economic, political, social and psychological motivation and machinery” behind the depiction of biblical figures as white. But the impact was profound: His father’s stories provided a “deep sense of solace and belonging and inner faith in the future.”6 From their parents and their instructors, the Randolph boys absorbed an abiding passion for reading, learning, and intellectual engagement that distinguished them throughout their teenage years. Both made extensive use of a small segregated library in town and pestered their father to buy them books from old bookstores.7 The “dominant climate

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Forten, the Haitian slave rebel and revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, and the abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.11 The Reverend James and Elizabeth Randolph expected significant things from their sons. Their emphasis on education, achievement, morality, and community instilled not just a sense of racial pride but self-confidence as well. The Randolph boys were “constantly and continuously” being told that “You are as able, you are as competent, you have as much intellectuality as any individual, any white boy of your age and even older than you are, and you are not supposed to bow and take a back seat for anybody.” Those lectures had their intended effect, for Asa and James “never felt that we were inferior to any white boy, never had that concept at all.”12 But the parental cultivation of pride and confidence were not ends in themselves, for the Reverend Randolph sought to direct his sons—his younger one in particular—toward the ministry where they could use their talents to spread the Lord’s word and, perhaps equally important, to do things that “will help other people as well as yourself.” Randolph recalled his father praising his sons’ verbal abilities and academic skills and his reminding them of how much faith their teachers had placed in them. They “believe you’re unusually gifted chaps,” he informed James and Asa, and “you’ve got to make use of that.” The goal, he stressed, was to “create conditions that will help the people farther down who don’t have your opportunities or don’t have your gifts.”13 Asa did not join the ministry, but he did absorb his father’s larger life lesson about leadership in the service of the race. Whether he did so at the time remains unclear. At the age of eighty-three, he seemed to locate the specific origins of his political activism in his high school years. His youthful daydreams, he explained, involved “carrying on some program for the abolition of racial discrimination.” Personal monetary success was not part of his agenda. What concerned him, by his own account, was a sense of obligation that the young African American had to “make a place in the world that would benefit more people than himself ” and “to engage in various pursuits that would not only help Negroes but help the country and help abolish racial discrimination.”14 Perhaps he was guided by W. E. B. Du Bois’s pointed critique of the racial accommodationism of the then-most powerful black

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not worthy of an alleged Negro sociologist.”18 If Randolph had drawn inspiration from Du Bois, he was later quick to put considerable distance between his own radicalism and that of Du Bois. Whatever his thinking as a teenager, Asa’s geographical horizons had to expand before his political horizons could. The road to an activist politics first carried Randolph to New York, where he immersed himself in new intellectual and radical communities profoundly different from those in his native Jacksonville. This brings us to the second part of this biographical introduction: a political coming-of-age story that began when Asa joined the migrant stream that was steadily carrying the South’s Talented Tenth to a region that would soon be called a “land of hope.” The twenty-two-year-old Asa arrived in New York City in 1911, at the end of a small but steady movement of southern blacks to the North that had tripled the city’s black population between 1890 and 1910. In some ways, the city to which he moved depressingly resembled the world he left behind. Just over a decade before his arrival, one journalist had concluded that the “prospect for the Negro in New York City is not very encouraging,” for not only had an anti-black riot in 1900 revealed police indifference to blacks’ safety but the “opportunities of Negroes are less in New York than they have ever been, and there does not seem any likelihood that present conditions will be immediately changed.”19 Any black man or woman attempting to secure employment would have run up against employment barriers that relegated them to menial, unskilled work. The year after Randolph’s arrival, sociologist George Edmund Haynes found that “the large majority of Negroes are employed today in occupations of domestic and personal service” in New York, and that their relegation to such jobs was the result of “the historical conditions of servitude, of a prejudice on the part of white workmen and employers,” and the “inefficiency of Negro-wage-earners.”20 The job market hardly beckoned; opportunities remained restricted. For a number of years, Asa Randolph joined thousands of other black New Yorkers, old timers and new arrivals alike, in maneuvering the low-wage common labor market and living what one observer called the “hand-to-mouth existence so common to Negro migrants of that period.”21 He kept few jobs for long. At one point he was a hallboy in apartment buildings on 89th Street where a cousin worked as

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Ebony magazine portrait recounted in 1958, this young man, “always hungry for learning,” found an intellectual home in New York. “In libraries and rented rooms he feasted on books of all kinds.”26 Study led to action. In the realm of practice, he helped to found an Independent Political Council as a forum for the discussion of political issues and the advancement of a radical critique. “We were having a great time,” Randolph told Anderson. “We didn’t think of the future, of establishing a home, getting ahead, or things of that sort. Those things weren’t as important as creating unrest among Negroes.”27 Meeting Chandler Owen at a party at Madame C. J. Walker’s home in 1915, Randolph found an intellectual soul mate. They challenged one another intellectually, undertaking an independent course of study of Marxian socialism and Lester Ward’s sociology, spending countless hours reading and discussing at the New York Public Library or at the Randolphs’ apartment, attending radical meetings addressed by such left-wing luminaries as Eugene V. Debs, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, or Morris Hillquit, and soaking in the soapbox oratory of Hubert Harrison. In 1916, they opposed military preparedness efforts in Harlem and campaigned for the Socialists’ presidential candidate, Allan Benson, while maintaining their political independence. “We are not Socialists. We are not anything,” Randolph made clear.28 That independence was short-lived; the two young black men joined the Socialist Party (SP) in 1917. Later that year, they founded the self-consciously radical Messenger magazine, with financial assistance from the Socialists, and threw themselves into the mayoral campaign of socialist candidate Morris Hillquit, coordinating the party’s efforts in Harlem.29 At a time of tremendous ferment marked by the emergence of so many ideological currents analyzing the ills of American life and proposing solutions for transcending them, Randolph without reservation cast his lot with the Socialist Party. For a young black migrant making New York his home in the prewar years, a turn toward socialism was hardly a logical or popular choice. It was, rather, a move that put Randolph at odds not only with most of the African American establishment but with many black critics of the social order as well. Within the broader black community, mainstream civil rights leaders dismissed the party as too utopian to be of value to the black cause, while the rising leader Marcus Garvey and his nationalist Universal Negro

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doctrines as a graduate student in Germany in the 1890s; by 1904, he would “scarcely describe [himself] as a socialist” but admitted that he held “many socialistic beliefs,” which included public ownership of railroads, mines, and factories.32 He joined the New York party local in 1911, but his flirtation with the Left was brief. With the approach of the 1912 presidential election, he voted for the southern-born Democrat, Woodrow Wilson (a decision he would come to rue). Although never overtly hostile to the socialists, he made clear his sharp disappointment with America’s white radicals. The party’s socialism was the “Socialism of a State where a tenth of the population”—some nine million “Americans of Negro descent”—is “disfranchised,” yet they “raise scarcely a single word of protest against it.” When “Revolution is discussed,” he asked, “it is the successful revolution of white folk and not the unsuccessful revolution of black soldiers in Texas”? For Du Bois, the answer was an unfortunately self-evident “no”. The nation’s silence—its lack of “moral courage” to discuss frankly the “Negro problem”—was shared by reactionaries and radicals alike.33 Hubert Harrison’s involvement with the SP was longer but his disillusionment even more bitter. A native of the Virgin Islands, Harrison made New York his home in 1900, completing his secondary schooling there and securing a position as a postal clerk. A voracious reader, an elegant and powerful writer, a trenchant social and literary critic, and a skilled and charismatic orator, he emerged as the Socialist Party’s most prominent and vocal black member by the early 1910s. His primary task, it seems, was to educate his fellow white socialists about the “Black Man’s Burden,” a subject that they knew little about and about which they expressed little interest. The facts he brought to their attention would “furnish such a damning indictment of the negro’s American over-lord as must open the eyes of the world,” Harrison wrote in 1911. Disfranchisement, segregation, a system of peonage that constituted a “second slavery,” and white trade unionists’ violent attacks against black workers were only part of his bill of complaint.34 These alone should have commanded blacks’ plight to white socialists’ attention. But lest his white listeners fail to be moved by his indictment, Harrison translated it into a language socialists could not fail to understand. America’s black population formed a “group that is more essentially proletarian than any other American group,” he insisted. Not only was the Negro

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in 1917. Self-consciously portrayed by its founder as the foundation of the “manhood movement for Negroes,” the League vowed to organize blacks to vote independently and to advocate armed self-defense. Turning to the Socialist Party for financial support in 1917, Harrison could maintain neither the journal nor the League when it rejected his appeal. It was not that New York party leaders had no interest in supporting black radicals; it was, rather, that they had already committed funds to subsiding Randolph, his partner, Chandler Owen, and their newly launched magazine, the Messenger.39 Harrison’s bitterness toward the Socialist Party, and its leading black members, Randolph and Owen, intensified over time. The SP’s record, he charged in 1920, did not entitle its members to respect from blacks. “We say Race First,” he lectured them, “because you have all along insisted on Race First and class after when you didn’t need our help.” Now that the party had lost influence and membership, it finally seemed willing to take up blacks’ cause. “Well, we thank honest white people everywhere who take up our cause, but we wish them to know that we have already taken it up ourselves.” As for the Messenger’s editors whom the party had selected to represent African Americans, they were “green and sappy in their Socialism.”40 That the Socialist Party of the early twentieth century was not an attractive or promising vehicle for advancing black rights is a conclusion drawn by most historians interested in race, labor, and radicalism. Prior to the war, argued the socialist writer James Weinstein almost half a century ago, “Negroes were virtually ignored by the Party officialdom.”41 With a few exceptions, Sally M. Miller once observed, the Socialists “did not see the Negro[,] . . . doubted Negro equality[,] and undertook no meaningful struggles against second-class citizenship.”42 Not only did southern branches sanction segregated locals, but some of the party’s leading figures—like Victor Berger of Milwaukee—were open in their belief in black inferiority.43 Perhaps most significant, the party’s official program seemed to leave little space for the recognition of black Americans’ distinctive place within American society. In his 1903 essay, “The Negro and the Class Struggle,” party leader Eugene V. Debs declared that “We have nothing special to offer the negro, and we cannot make separate appeals to all the races. The Socialist party is the party of the working class, regardless of color.”44 In so declaring, Debs was hardly signaling disinterest in black recruits; rather, he was

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of the American racial order. “The whole history of the American slave trade and of African slavery in the United States, clear down to the present day, is black with infamy and crime against the negro, which the white race can never atone for in time or eternity,” Debs passionately wrote. Chattel slavery was a crime “without a parallel in history,” for which “complete restitution . . . can never be made.” As for the socialists, Debs concurred that even among their ranks “the negro question is treated with a timidity bordering on cowardice which contrasts painfully with the principles of freedom and equality proclaimed as cardinal in their movement.” He forthrightly condemned the socialist “who will not speak out fearlessly for the negro’s right to work and live, to develop his manhood, educate his children, and fulfill his destiny on terms of equality with the white man.” That individual simply “misconceives the movement he pretends to serve or lacks the courage to live up to its principles.” Debs may have incurred Du Bois’s disapproval with his admission that the “negro is ‘backward’ because he never had a chance to be forward,” having been “captured, overpowered, put in chains, plundered, brutalized and perverted to the last degree.” But all that would change, Debs argued, if African Americans were given a genuine chance. “The negro is my brother. . . . I refuse any advantage over him and I spurn any right denied him.” In the end, blacks’ “salvation” lay “with themselves,” and through organization, self-education, and their assertion of “united power,” they would “progress” and “take their rightful place in society.” Nothing in his words suggested a subordination of race to class or a failure to recognize the specific conditions experienced by African Americans. It would be difficult to find a stronger indictment of America’s racial past and present and a more open embrace of the African American cause from any group of whites at the time.48 In the Messenger and in later recollections, Randolph expressed a deep respect for the white socialist leader. Although he did not consider Debs to be a “great leader of thought,” he did see him as a “matchless” and “mighty orator, one of the great men on the platform for social change,” who “had the power of moving people  .  .  . by painting pictures of the degradation of the working man.” In a description that others would later apply to Randolph, he viewed Debs as “selfless. He had no concern about amassing wealth, making money out of anything he

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support stemmed from his belief that neither of the principal political parties had anything to offer black America. With the pre–New Deal Democratic Party attracting little black support, he castigated the black electorate for its “slavish and foolish worship of the Republican Party,” whose sole gesture was granting the occasional patronage post to a few prominent black politicos while offering them “no voice in the government.” Those obedient “Negro peanut politicians”—“political palliators, acquiescers and compromisers”—did their white masters’ bidding. With “hat in hand,” the hand-picked black official, the “old, archaic, fossilized Negro political” parasite “sermonizes, prates and apps about the grand, old Republican Party being the ‘ship and all else the sea” in exchange for “a crum [sic] from the political dinner table.”55 The Republicans shared the blame for all that afflicted black America: “Jim Crowism, segregation, lynching, disfranchisement and discrimination.” And since the overwhelming number of African Americans were working people, they had “nothing in common” with the “party of plutocracy, of wealth, of monopoly, of trusts, of big business.”56 In the first issue of the Messenger, which appeared shortly before the 1917 mayoral election in New York City, Randolph put a positive spin on the Socialist Party’s race record. The SP “does not even hold race prejudice in the South,” the journal declared; the following year, it echoed that claim by declaring that the “Socialist party has always . . . opposed all forms of race prejudice.”57 Were the editors being disingenuous? Or were they ignorant of the party’s mixed record? Although they left no clues to help historians resolve the matter, it is possible to believe that their standard of evaluation was different than that of Du Bois or Harrison; that they simply did not judge the party as a totality; that they ignored the party’s practical shortcomings, and embraced the more progressive New York variant, which they very much found to their liking. Whatever the case, the Messenger’s socialist pitch to black readers was largely class-based. Mayoral candidate Morris Hillquit would reduce the high cost of living; provide free food and clothing to school children “as a matter of right,” not charity; build public housing; eliminate food speculators by establishing public markets to sell fresh food to people “at cost”; end the practice of jailing war critics; and promote municipal ownership of subway, telephone, gas, and electric service. African

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would receive “the full product of his toil,” the very “goal of Socialism.” That, Randolph concluded, “is why every Negro should be a Socialist.”60 The argument that socialists would “abolish lynching, the Jim Crow car, disfranchisement and peonage” because, as members of a working-class political party, they had “no motive or interest in oppressing any part of its own class” was one that Randolph continued to advance well into the 1920s.61 Randolph’s more race-centered contemporaries (both nationalists and communists) and subsequent historians have critiqued the socialists’—and Randolph’s—theoretical insistence on the primacy of class as inattentive to the specificity of black Americans’ oppression; in their view, this served as a deterrent to the successful recruitment of black members into the SP’s ranks. On a theoretical level, Randolph never managed—indeed, he never seems to have tried—to transcend the party’s class-orientated perspective or subject the Socialists’ ideology or practices to close scrutiny where race or African Americans were concerned. What left-wing activists and historians would subsequently term “class reductionism” or “economism”—the notion that the race question ultimately resolved itself into a class question—bothered Randolph not a whit. It was a position that Randolph, with no less fire in the belly over racial injustice, would also adopt with no impact on his civil rights activism. The common wisdom about Debs’s problematic “economism” only mattered—or matters still today—to those immersed in a world of Marxist or pseudo-Marxist theory who believe that a “correct line” is determinative of proper politics. This was never an approach that Randolph adopted, and, in Debs’s case, it misrepresents the Socialist leader’s views toward African Americans and racial inequality. Randolph seemed content to propagandize on behalf of the party, to support its candidates for office (and, on several occasions, serve as one himself), and to explore issues of wealth, power, and empire in his journal’s pages.62 On the socialist front, he was always more the agitator or popularizer than the theoretician. If Randolph’s contributions to socialist thought were not particularly original, the same cannot be said about his other goal: the forging of a new and aggressive style of black activism. Randolph and his cohort self-consciously regarded themselves as “New Negroes” intent upon overturning existing black politics—all of it. (The Chicago Defender observed that the Messenger “is

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cash-strapped insurgent journal. On a speaking tour in Cleveland, Randolph and Owen temporarily found themselves in police custody, accused of violating the Sedition Act by writing and speaking out against the war. During and after the war, the magazine and its editors remained highly suspect in the eyes of government intelligence officers. Informers reported regularly on the editors’ movements, articles, and speeches.68 In 1919, the attorney general of the United States, A. Mitchell Palmer, concluded that the Messenger was “by all odds the most able and the most dangerous of all the Negro publications.”69 It was an exciting and promising time for radicals. As prominent members of what they called “the New Crowd,” Randolph and Owen not only immersed themselves in Socialist Party activities but also plunged into the broader milieu of African American politics in the streets of Harlem. “From World War I through the 1930s,” observes historian Irma Watkins-Owens, “the unclaimed terrain of the Harlem street corner became the testing ground for a range of political ideologies and a forum for intellectual inquiry and debate.”70 Street speakers, standing on soapboxes or stepladders, were a permanent feature at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue, Seventh Avenue between 137th and 138th streets, and other locations. As Clare Corbould has argued, the “practice of lecturing and listening on the streets was a means of bringing into public discourse topics and opinions that had little currency in the wider public sphere.”71 Hubert Harrison spent countless hours on his Harlem soapbox before large and appreciative crowds. Randolph and Owen followed in his footsteps. Their message, though, differed from Harrison’s. Well before they launched the Messenger, they had honed a socialist pitch that Harrison had abandoned. Randolph had three particular advantages that prepared him well for the task at hand: He was the son of a politically minded AME minister whose sermons he had imbibed for years; he had gained debating experience at City College and in the Epthworth League; and his experience in amateur theatrical productions and public speaking training made him comfortable and confident before crowds. “Due largely to Randolph’s oratorical gifts,” Jervis Anderson has written, “they quickly became the most notorious street-corner radicals in Harlem,” transforming the corner of 135th and Lenox into “the center of the militant consciousness of black America.”72 The impeccably dressed Randolph, not yet thirty years old, “attracted

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personally, Garvey was misguided at best, dangerous at worst. Randolph rejected Garvey’s embrace of black business as a means of the race’s salvation. The promotion of the Black Star Line—a collection of broken-down transoceanic steamships Garvey had assembled—rested on the misconception that anyone could profitably launch a steamship concern in the uncertain economy of the postwar era and, even if it was profitable, that it was desirable to do so. Beyond the financial mess and legal scandal that quickly enveloped the Black Star Line fiasco, Garvey’s economic vision anchored black achievement on the shakiest of foundations. Like Booker T. Washington, Garvey placed considerable faith in the redemptive power of capitalism, rejected the conflict of social classes, and opposed trade unions. The element of the “race first” doctrine at the core of Garvey’s program that most bothered Randolph was its overarching pessimism— even defeatism—about the possibility of waging a successful struggle for black rights in the United States. Randolph hailed the upsurge in black activism during and after the war as the “birth of a new consciousness”; Garveyism, which itself was one manifestation of that upsurge, now promised to “divert the Negroes’ mind away”77 from the fundamental fight for rights and, in the process, strengthen the white forces of reaction. When, in 1922, Garvey declared, “This is a white man’s country. He found it, he conquered it and we can’t blame him because he wants to keep it,”78 civil rights supporters were appalled. But the final straw was Garvey’s meeting with Edward Clark, the head of the Ku Klux Klan, in Atlanta in June 1922.79 From that moment on, the gloves came off. In the months that followed, Randolph and Owen spearheaded a “Garvey Must Go!” campaign that attracted thousands of supporters, including NAACP leaders who had previously felt the Messenger’s barbs. Garvey’s critics ultimately got their wish. Convicted on mail fraud charges in 1923, Garvey served time in a federal penitentiary in Atlanta before finally being deported. It was Randolph’s campaign, one journalist concluded in 1927, that helped “to break the backbone of the Garvey movement.”80 The removal of the “race first” distraction of Garveyism did not mean that Randolph’s vision of interracial working-class solidarity was any closer to materializing out of virtual nothingness. Indeed, disarray among class-based radicals left Randolph in an even more isolated

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programs.” With Garvey safely out of the way, the Communists had become a dangerous “menace” to black America. Although his relationship with the party would warm a bit in the late 1930s, his fundamental opposition to Communist doctrine was firmly set. By 1940, he would become one of the most prominent left-wing anti-Communists in the nation.84 For the moment, however, Randolph need not have worried very much. By the mid-1920s, the wartime-era manifestations of a new black radicalism had largely exhausted themselves. Garvey’s star had risen and fallen; the NAACP—whose wartime membership explosion has not fully been appreciated by scholars—watched helplessly as many of its new chapters disintegrated. The socialist movement was in sharp retreat, suffering from governmental repression and its own internal splits and defections, while the American Federation of Labor hemorrhaged the new members gained during the war, going down to defeat after defeat in a series of strikes, both titanic and small, between 1919 and 1923. Besides, its doors remained tightly shut as ever against black members, while the radical IWW lay in shambles. For their part, the Communists, pursuing a sectarian line, made few inroads in either white or black America. Black socialists like Randolph were few and far between, their doctrinally inspired dream of interracial unity revealed as just another false hope. By the mid-1920s, Randolph lacked many political allies. His decade-long partner, Chandler Owen, withdrew from active involvement in the Messenger, moving to Chicago and drifting to the Right (he would eventually become a consultant and a ghostwriter for Republican candidates). New faces joined the Messenger staff, altering its tone to promote, not denigrate, black business enterprises. Even Randolph’s bitter hostility to the AFL lessened somewhat, for with the disappearance of the IWW, few alternatives for black trade unionists remained. By the early 1920s, the radical moment had passed—and Randolph knew it. The “state of the race, like the state of the world,” he noted in 1923, “is chaotic.” The “passions of the Great War swept the hopes of all peoples upward” toward a vision of a “new day,” a “warless world,” and a world “without oppression of race, or class, creed or nation. Such was the dream of millions.” Instead, they got unemployment and “spiritual decay.” “Society,” he concluded, “seems utterly and hopelessly bankrupt

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and lessons. Or perhaps not. By the time he recounted his early life, the narrative had a political purpose to serve. But interspersed with the “usable past” he shared were glimpses of a different, lighter Randolph, one whose attraction toward the theater and classical literature were quite profound. His parents’ disapproval of that life path prompted him to channel those energies more overtly into a political direction. And yet, in ways his parents did not anticipate, the radical Randolph continued to perform, displaying his stage and speaking skills in the service of a cause—civil rights—of which his parents would have approved.87 Notes

1. James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan (1930; repr. New York: Atheneum,

1968), 247; Roi Ottley, “New World A-Coming”: Inside Black America (Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 1943), 272; “Propaganda Among Negroes,” in Revolutionary Radicalism: Its History, Purpose and Tactics with an Exposition and Discussion of the Steps Being Taken and Required to Curb It, Being the Report of the Joint Legislative Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, Filed April 24, 1920, in the Senate of the State of New York,. Part I: Revolutionary and Subversive Movements Abroad and at Home, Volume II (Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1920), 1476; and “Investigation Activities of the Department of Justice: Letter from the Attorney General Transmitting in Response to a Senate Resolution of October 17, 1919. A Report on the Activities of the Bureau of Investigation of the Department of Justice Against Persons Advising Anarchy, Sedition, and the Forcible Overthrow of the Government,” November 17, 1919, 66th Congress, First Session, Document 153, Senate Documents, Vol. XII, Exhibit No. 10 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office), 179. 2. Abram L. Harris, “The Negro Problem as viewed by Negro Leaders,” Current History: A Monthly Magazine of the New York Times 18 (June 1923): 414. 3. William Duffy, “A Post Portrait: A. Philip Randolph,” New York Post, December 28, 1959. 4. Edwin R. Embree, 13 Against the Odds (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1944), 216. 5. For concise overviews of Randolph’s life, see Eric Arnesen, “A. Philip Randolph: Labor and the New Black Politics,” in The Human Tradition in American Labor History, ed. Eric Arnesen (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2003), 173–191; Benjamin Quarles, “A. Philip Randolph: Labor Leader at Large,” in Benjamin Quarles, Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), 151–177; and William H. Harris, “A. Philip Randolph, Black Workers, and the Labor Movement,” in Labor Leaders in America, ed. Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).

72  73 29. Judith Stein, The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society

(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986), 47; “The Editors’ Statement,” Messenger (November 1917): 20; “Negroes Organizing in Socialist Party,” Messenger (July 1917): 8–9; and Anderson, A. Philip Randolph, 76. 30. Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States (1952; repr. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967), 90. 31. This is a story that has been well told by many. See, for instance, James Weinstein, Ambiguous Legacy: The Left in American Politics (New York: New Viewpoints, 1975), 11–25; and Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co., 1969). 32. Du Bois quoted in David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race (New York: Henry Holt, 1993), 313; also see 143–44, 338. 33. W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Problem of Problems,” Intercollegiate Socialist 6, no. 2 (December 1917–January 1918): 9, 8. 34. Hubert H. Harrison, “The Black Man’s Burden,” International Socialist Review 12, no. 10 (April 1912): 61–62. Harrison’s articles in the SP’s daily, the New York Call, are reprinted in A Hubert Harrison Reader, ed. Jeffrey B. Perry (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 52–62. On Harrison’s life, see Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883–1918 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009); and William Pickens, “Hubert Harrison: Philosopher of Harlem,” Birmingham Reporter, February 17, 1923. 35. Hubert Harrison, “Socialism and the Negro,” International Socialist Review 13, no. 1 (July 1912), 65–66. 36. Harrison, “How to Do It—and How Not,” New York Call, December 16, 1911, and Harrison, “The Duty of the Socialist Party,” New York Call, December 18, 1911, both reprinted in Perry, A Hubert Harrison Reader, 61, 58. 37. Harrison, “Socialism and the Negro,” in Perry, A Hubert Harrison Reader, 75. 38. Harrison quoted in Stein, The World of Marcus Garvey, 44, 45. The most thorough account of Harrison’s life is found in Jeffrey B. Perry, Introduction, in Perry, A Hubert Harrison Reader, 1–30. 39. Stein notes that Harrison had rejoined the SP in March 1918 only to resign in September. See Stein, The World of Marcus Garvey, 46. 40. Harrison, “The New Race Consciousness: Race First versus Class First,” 80–81, and “The New Race Consciousness: An Open Letter to the Socialist Party of New York City,” 86, in When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World (1920; repr. Chesapeake, New York: ECA Associates Press, 1991). 41. James Weinstein, The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912–1925 (1967; New York: Vintage, 1969), 65. 42. Sally M. Miller, “The Socialist Party and the Negro, 1901–20,” Journal of Negro History 56, no. 3 (July 1971): 221. Decades later, Miller revisited the issue and softened her conclusions somewhat. Miller, “For White Men Only: The Socialist Party of

74  75 61. Randolph, “American Politics,” Messenger (February 1923): 596;emphasis in


62. Randolph was the SP’s candidate for New York state controller in 1920 and sec-

retary of state in 1922. Lucille Randolph was the party’s nominee for alderman in the 21st Manhattan district in 1923. See: “Colored Men on Socialist Ticket,” Buffalo American, September 16, 1920; Chicago Defender, July 15, 1922; “A. Philip Randolph,” Messenger (October 1922): 497; “American Labor Party,” Buffalo American, October 19, 1922; and “Race Woman on Socialist Ticket,” Washington Tribune, November 3, 1923. 63. Chicago Defender, July 15, 1922. 64. “New Leadership for the Negro,” Messenger (May–June 1919): 9–10. 65. “W. E. B. Du Bois,” Messenger (March 1919): 21–22. 66. “Du Bois Fails as a Theorist,” Messenger (December 1919): 7–8. 67. George W. Gore, Jr., Negro Journalism: An Essay on the History and Present Conditions of the Negro Press (Greencastle, IN: n.p., 1922), 22. 68. Revolutionary Radicalism, 1476–82, 1515–20. 69. Quoted in Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., No Crystal Stair: Black Life and The Messenger, 1917–1928 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975), 70; and Kornweibel, Jr., “Seeing Red”: Federal Campaigns Against Black Militancy, 1919–1925 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 76–99. 70. Irma Watkins-Owens, Blood Relations: Caribbean Immigrants and the Harlem Community, 1900–1930 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 92. 71. Clare Corbould, “Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem,” Journal of Social History 40, no. 4 (Summer 2007): 873. 72. Anderson, A. Philip Randolph, 77. 73. Ibid., 77–78. 74. Foley, Specters of 1919, 66. 75. A. Philip Randolph, “Garveyism,” Messenger (September 1921): 248, 249. 76. Ibid., 250, 251; and “Garvey Unfairly Attacked,” Messenger (April 1922): 387. 77. Randolph, “Garveyism,” 251; emphasis in original. 78. Garvey quoted in Stein, World of Marcus Garvey, 154. 79. Stein, World of Marcus Garvey, 153–70. 80. Roland A. Gibson, “The ‘New Negro’ Takes Another Step,” World Tomorrow 10 (February 1927): 81. 81. Markku Ruotsila, “Neoconservatism Prefigured: The Social Democratic League of America and the Anticommunists of the Anglo-American Right, 1917–21,” Journal of American Studies 40 (2006): 327–45. 82. The Editors, “The Right and Left Wing Interpreted,” Messenger (May–June 1919): 21–22. 83. Abram Harris, “The Negro Problem as Viewed by Negro Leaders,” Current History 18 (June 1923): 417. 84. “The Menace of Negro Communists,” Messenger (August 1923): 784; and Eric Arnesen, “No ‘Graver Danger’: Black Anticommunism, the Communist Party,

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personal privatized faith with near-revolutionary social change.”2 As his political and religious activism demonstrates, Randolph consistently drew from the empowering capacities of a Christian faith throughout his lifetime as a labor and civil rights activist, which provided him and his followers the ability to challenge the overwhelming social restrictions of a Jim Crow system. Some scholars have taken the subject of religion and religious beliefs and institutions more seriously. They have moved beyond reductionist explanations, which identified religion as “the opiate of the people” or a tool of social control by powerful capitalist elites, replacing these explanations with more nuanced discussions of churches and religion as significant social institutions or influential systems of beliefs that deeply affect working-class people and the communities in which they live.3 As political, labor, and religious historians of American history continue to explore the interdisciplinary and intersectional nature of race, class, gender, and religion within their disciplines, the complex religious nature of socialist labor activists such as A. Philip Randolph can be more accurately understood. This essay explores how Randolph consistently integrated his religious and working-class values throughout his life and at three transformative phases: 1) Randolph’s early years as a son of southern African Methodists in the 1890s; 2) Randolph’s migration north, where he blended his African Methodist religious values with newly acquired socialist beliefs, which catapulted him to national fame as a labor leader, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), and champion of African American working-class and economic rights; and 3) Randolph’s emergence, in the 1940s, as a national civil rights leader of the March on Washington Movement, in which he and his followers initiated several religiously-based strategies often associated with the modern civil rights movement and the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). * * * Both religion and working-class struggles influenced young Asa Randolph’s childhood. Raised in Jacksonville, Florida, in the 1890s, Randolph experienced the precarious existence of southern blacks facing

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Church, not only in the United States but throughout the world. Verily, the test of Christianity is the test of the color line, as the test of democracy is the test of the color line.7

Randolph’s childhood reminiscences reveal how he merged the deeply religious African Methodist worldview of his parents and grandparents with their ethic of hard work. Randolph recalled his “superreligious” grandmother, Mary Robinson, who was deeply devoted to her church activities, and his grandfather, James Robinson, who “never attended church” but was a well-respected working-class man devoted to caring for his family. At the same time, their son James Randolph was a working-class man and a Methodist minister. Randolph remembered his two kinds of clothing: the ordinary working clothes worn during the week and his ministerial garb, worn on the weekends, when he visited the several congregations for which he was responsible. Reverend Randolph’s tailoring business was the family’s main source of income since the money he earned as a preacher was quite negligible. Moreover, it was Elizabeth Randolph’s acute business sense that kept the family financially afloat; it was she who made sure that her husband’s clients paid their bills. And through her support, Reverend Randolph pursued his real calling: to help his poor, defenseless neighbors. The Randolph home attracted people seeking Reverend Randolph’s advice and support in times of trouble. Randolph recalled how his father spent much of his time keeping young men out of jail.8 Throughout his life, A. Philip Randolph identified himself as “one of the sons of African Methodism” and believed that nothing affected him as deeply as his relationship with the AME Church, especially its militant Christian message of human dignity and individual selfworth. One of his most vivid childhood memories was the night his father organized a few community members to stand vigil outside the local jail to protect a black man charged with molesting a white woman. While Elizabeth Randolph sat up all night at home with a rifle across her lap, ready to shoot anyone who tried to harm her or her two young sons, Reverend Randolph and his companions successfully aborted a lynching. This incident taught Randolph that if “a people who [were] victims of racial hatred and persecution” united to protect themselves against injustice by standing firmly and holding their ground, they

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reputation as a lifelong atheist comes from this period, an analysis of Randolph’s radical years reveals that his atheism was relatively shortlived and eventually abandoned. As he ensconced himself in the radical world of socialist politics, Randolph went through three stages in his religious worldview while he and socialist friends wrote and published the Messenger magazine, which spread their gospel of socialism among black and other disadvantaged peoples. Randolph understood socialism as a “revolutionary evangelism that had come in to the life of the Negro,”14 and during the first stage, Randolph and Owen used the Messenger to heap scorn on the type of religion concerned with church doctrines and creeds that stressed an other-worldly heaven but ignored unjust social conditions in the here and now. Randolph and his Messenger colleagues attacked everything “narrow and medieval in religion” that justified the status quo in American race relations.15 For Randolph and Owen, two of Walter Everette Hawkins’s poems captured just the right tone directed at complacent, conservative, and middle-class communities and churches that ignored real unjust social conditions. The Messenger aimed its criticism not at religion but at religious hypocrisy. Too Much Religion There is too much time for doctrine; Too much talk of church and creeds; Far too little time for duty, And to heal some heart that bleeds. Too much Sunday Church religion, Too many stale and bookish prayers; Too many souls are getting ragged, Watching what their neighbor wears. There is too much talk of heaven, Too much talk of golden streets, When one can’t be sympathetic, When a needy neighbor meets. Too much talk about the riches You expect to get “up there,”

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a people who are lynched, disfranchised and Jim Crowed [and which] must set its face against a philosophy of profits to a philosophy of service.”17 Randolph struggled against a type of religion that favored the comfortable and the very rich. In other words, churches, both black and white, had to serve the needs of congregations like the ones Randolph’s father had ministered to in the South: churches that served the poor and downtrodden. As the wartime emergency subsided and the violence of the “red summer” of 1919 cooled down, the Messenger’s editorial policy shifted. Randolph and his colleagues sought out a new focus and direction for the Messenger that would better reflect the urbane and artistic cultural renaissance that was taking place in Harlem. Backing down from the negative and angry rhetoric of the wartime years, articles and reports featured progressive, modern churches and religious institutions, praising their social programs and community outreach. The Olivet Baptist Church of Chicago, billed as the largest Protestant church in the world, received praise for its educational programs, its commitment to “pure religion,” and its practical illustration of Christian doctrines by Messenger staff. Olivet not only ministered to the spiritual needs of its members, but also demonstrated that “the social and economic needs of humanity” were of equal concern.18 Other positive statements regarding religion and religious institutions started appearing more regularly. Following the Olivet example, Randolph’s magazine reported on what it saw as progressive trends and positive developments in the black religious communities of this time, especially their increasing advocacy for working-class concerns. Randolph analyzed the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s from both a race and a class perspective: The bishops, in the main, are the representatives of the thought of the mighty financial and industrial kings in America, while the ministers are seeking to articulate the aims, aspirations and hopes of the small business interests, the farmers and trades peoples who are in revolt against the oppression of the money oligarchs.19

The third and final phase in Randolph’s years as a radical editor of a socialist magazine coincides with his emergence as a labor leader.

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struggles; and publicized working-class interests. Randolph and BSCP organizers worked to free religion from “upper-class psychology” in order to give religion a more universal appeal. Randolph and his followers advocated blending religion with working-class values as the means of developing successful working-class organizations. But this required the power of truth and an understanding of the “brotherhood of man.” Randolph’s practical grasp of the porters’ religious impulse enabled him to convince the porters that the Brotherhood was a righteous cause and to inspire them to join and stay, even during the difficult early years of the Depression.22 In 1929, Randolph collaborated with Professor Jerome Davis of Yale University Divinity School on a worldwide symposium and publication on labor and religion. Randolph’s essay for this publication remains his most definitive statement of how he integrated his religious beliefs with his working-class concerns. Randolph characterized the original black church as both proletarian and revolutionary. It was proletarian, since “the black proletariat . . . constituted practically ninety-nine percent of the Negro population.” And it was revolutionary, because the early black church “championed the cause of freedom for the black bondmen.”23 Similarly, Randolph argued that modern black churches should champion a proletarian philosophy since their membership was largely composed of black workers. Benjamin Mays and Joseph Nicholson’s important sociological study of the black churches of this same period verified that the majority of urban church members were either domestic servants or laborers, with only a few skilled tradesmen, businessmen, or professionals.24 Randolph maintained that through the efforts of the BSCP, black workers were learning the advantages of trade unionism and challenged black churches to champion a proletariat philosophy. As for labor leaders, like himself, being seen as antireligious and antichurch, Randolph responded: Negro labor leaders are not anti-Church, though they may not be church members. All of them feel that the Church can be of constructive social, educational and spiritual service to the Negro workers. If the Church, white or black, is to express the true philosophy of Jesus Christ, Himself a worker, it will not lend itself to the creed of oppressive capitalism which would deny to the servant his just hire.25

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black religious communities no longer “betrayed the rich background of the Negro Church, which was born in revolt against segregation and discrimination in the white church during slavery under the leadership of such spiritual titans as Bishop Richard Allen of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.”29 Randolph’s emergence in the late 1930s as a national labor leader who blended his religious and working class convictions provided him with the platform to pursue the next phase of his work: the development of an effective civil rights agenda. Much has been written about Randolph’s success in getting President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 8802 because of his threatened march on Washington in the tense months before Pearl Harbor. As Randolph’s proposal for a march gained support and enthusiasm from African Americans across the country, an actual march was scheduled for July 1, 1941, which Randolph claimed could attract as many as one hundred thousand marchers to the capital. Fearful that Randolph would make good on his claim, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which opened industrial and wartime jobs for black workers. The actual march was subsequently postponed. Searching for a way to keep his fledgling protest movement united, Randolph and other BSCP officers set up local March on Washington Movement branches in cities across the United States to act as watchdogs over the newly formed Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC). Analyzing Randolph’s religious activism in this phase of his life demonstrates how he continued to practice his progressive religious values. In this light, Randolph’s activities in this third chapter can be seen as a blueprint for the modern civil rights movement that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. The religiously motivated direct action tactics often attributed to King and the SCLC actually originated in Randolph’s 1940s civil rights organization, the March on Washington Movement (MOWM), and included the staging of prayer protests as a means of political dissent; the development of a liberationist theology; and the adoption of Gandhian nonviolent direct action tactics as a means of protest. As a wartime social movement leader, Randolph experimented with all of these religiously based strategies in the generation before the modern civil rights movement. In the early months of 1942, with FEPC public hearings under way, Randolph and several MOWM branches planned a series of

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were perceived by the public as dangerously seditious. A reported two thousand demonstrators participated on a rainy October Sunday in the mass prayer protest held in the heart of St. Louis’s business district.32 The program consisted of congregational singing, prayer, and meditation, and speeches by five ministers of the St. Louis InterDenominational Ministers Alliance and by several MOWM members, the two sponsors of the event. The highlight of the prayer meeting was a dramatic skit written by local activist David M. Grant. Performed by the “March Players” inside the soldiers’ memorial using microphones to amplify the actors’ voices, the skit narrated the story of the biblical Exodus from Egypt, which compared the ancient Israelites held in slavery by the Egyptian Pharaoh to the social and economic situation that the St. Louis black community faced in 1942. Here is a brief sample of Grant’s seven-page play: Voice I: And the children of Israel which came into Egypt . . . were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied . . . and the land was filled with them. Voice II: And the Negro people which were brought into America in chains . . . made the land fruitful with their labor, and increased its yield abundantly and multiplied its wealth . . . and the land was filled with their cries, their woe, and their suffering. Voice I: Now there arose up a new king over Egypt . . . [called Pharaoh, who] did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities. Voice II: And so too the Negro people in America did build treasure cities, and grew beautiful crops under the lashes of their taskmasters. And so too did they multiply and grow under their afflictions.33

As the narrative voices contrasted ancient and modern working-class struggles, actors representing Pharaoh, dressed “in a red-spangled robe with crown and scepter,” and Moses “clad in a plain black robe,” appeared on stage, and in dialogue the Moses character reiterated the phrase, “Let my people go!” The skit, ending with the spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” sung by tenor Laverne Hutchinson, associated the MOWM with the Hebrew leader who successfully led the Israelites to the Promised Land, and left the audience with this conclusion:

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trouble accepting Randolph’s leadership in what was seen as a “religious effort.” Randolph’s experiments in prayer protests during the 1940s foreshadowed the same strategies he would use for the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, often acknowledged as the first critical civil rights demonstration of the modern civil rights movement, which brought Martin Luther King, Jr., the acknowledged leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, onto the national stage. Randolph clearly articulated a black theology of liberation throughout his career by encouraging his followers to combine their theology and religious doctrines with critical economic and social analysis. In the twenty-first century, liberation theologies continue to expand by addressing many forms of social and economic injustices. Christian ethicist Laura Stivers, in her analysis of the history and development of economic liberation ethics, could well have been writing about Randolph as she examined late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century ethicists and theologians organizing to address problems associated with economic exploitation and marginalization: These thinkers all felt that religion could be more than an opiate of the people, that it had the seeds for prophetic criticism of economic injustice based on Christian understandings of a liberating God, on the Hebrew prophets’ attention to economic justice for those on the margins, and on the example of Jesus’ ministry and hospitality to all.39

Randolph wrote that it was the life of Jesus Christ that prompted his “advocacy of the philosophy of nonviolence as one of the highways for fundamental social change.”40 Deeply affected by Mahatma Gandhi’s advocacy of civil disobedience in India’s fight for independence, Randolph, like other civil rights activists of this period, explored the practice of satyagraha, or nonviolent civil disobedience, and believed it could serve as a useful strategy in abolishing Jim Crow. Besides the examples of Jesus and Gandhi, Randolph also attributed his belief in the “moral and spiritual power of non-violence” to his AME minister father.41 By late 1942, Randolph’s ambitious plans for his civil rights organization included a truly national movement that could mobilize “five million Negroes into one great mass of pressure for freedom and democracy in America” and would culminate in the first MOWM national convention

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rights when the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a year-long civil rights campaign, ended successfully by abolishing a Jim Crow public transportation system in Montgomery, Alabama. The boycott impressed Randolph “as one of the great sagas of the struggle for human decency and freedom, made effective by a veritable miracle of unity of some fifty thousand Negroes under the spiritual banner of love, non-cooperation with evil and non-violence.”46 This campaign touched off more than a decade of intense civil rights activism within the United States under the leadership of a new generation of southern civil rights leaders, most notably Martin Luther King, Jr. Randolph’s and Bayard Rustin’s perception that by the mid-1950s the “center of gravity . . . for the whole civil rights movement was the church people and the ministers of the south” can be understood as the culmination of Randolph’s lifetime effort to combine the black community’s working-class and religious interests in its fight for first-class citizenship.47 Seen in this light, Randolph’s willingness and ability to work with the new leadership reflected a shared religious and working-class worldview. King recognized Randolph as the “the greatest leader . . . that the Negro has produced” and noted that his “total integrity, depth of dedication and caliber of statesmanship set an example for all.”48 Beginning in 1957, Randolph and King worked closely together supporting each other in some of the most famous civil rights campaigns and legislation of the century: the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage, the 1963 March on Washington, the Civil Right Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With the forging of this powerful alliance of a black labor leader and a black religious leader, Randolph made a personal decision. At the age of sixty-eight, he joined Bethel AME Church in Harlem, a church of working-class people in the lower income brackets. As a long-time Harlem religious institution, Bethel had a strong reputation for working for social justice. When asked by the minister why he wished to join, Randolph replied that it was for his own “personal, spiritual comfort and reassurance” and “because I believe in [the AME Church].”49 At the moment when black church communities and congregations joined the civil rights campaign in demanding their economic rights, Randolph decided to join the church, which for the last several decades had been merging a religious perspective with workingclass concerns. For Randolph, it was another sign of keeping his faith.

96  97 9. Ibid., 18, 69–71. 10. Ibid., 45, 78–79. 11. Ibid., 41, 43, 49. 12. Randolph, “African Methodism”; and “Reminiscences of A. Philip Randolph,” 10,

18, 45, 54, 69–71, 78–81.

13. “Reminiscences of A. Philip Randolph,” 149, 155, 234; and Anderson, A. Philip

Randolph, 62.

14. “Reminiscences of A. Philip Randolph,” 179. 15. The Editors, “The Messenger Is the Only Magazine of Scientific Radicalism in the

World Published by Negroes,” Messenger (November 1917): 21.

16. Walter Everette Hawkins, “Too Much Religion” and “Here and Hereafter,” Mes-

senger (November 1917): 27.

17. Editorial, “The Failure of the Negro Church,” Messenger (October 1919): 6. 18. “Olivet—A Community-Serving Church in Chicago,” Messenger (September

1924): 282.

19. Editorial, “The Fundamentalists vs. the Modernists,” Messenger (February 1924):


20. A. Philip Randolph, “Reply to the Industrial Defense Association, Inc., Boston,

Mass.” n.d. APR Papers, box 10.

21. Oscar Walters, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Black Worker (July 1, 1930): 4; A.

Philip Randolph, “The Brotherhood, the Finest Fruitage of the Fighting Faith of Black Men,” Black Worker (March 15, 1930): 1; A. Philip Randolph, “Salvation from Within,” Black Worker (April 1, 1930): 1. 22. George S. Grant, “Religion and the Working Class,” Messenger (February 1928): 33, 47. 23. A. Philip Randolph, “Negro Labor and the Church,” in Labor Speaks for Itself on Religion: A Symposium of Labor Leaders throughout the World, ed. Jerome Davis (New York: Macmillan, 1929), 76, 78–79. 24. Benjamin E. Mays and Joseph W. Nicholson, The Negro’s Church (New York: Institute of Social and Religious Research, 1933), 100. 25. Randolph, “Negro Labor and the Church,” 38. 26. Randal Maurice Jelks, Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 82. The panel consisted of J. M. Ellison, professor at Virginia State College; George Edmund Haynes, secretary of the Commission on Race Relations of the Federal Council of Churches (FCC); Dr. Henry H. Proctor, pastor of the Nazarene Congregational Church, Brooklyn, New York; Frank T. Wilson, executive secretary of Colored Student Work, National Council of the YMCA, New York. 27. Ibid. 28. Ibid. 29. A. Philip Randolph, “Story of the Porter–A Saga in Trade Unionism,” September 10, 1950, APR, box 5. Randolph’s critical analysis of the Black Church of the early twentieth century paralleled historian Gayraud Wilmore’s “deradicalization

98  99 45. George M. Houser, Erasing the Color Line, (New York: Fellowship Publications,

1945), 7.

46. Statement by A. Philip Randolph to the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom at the

Lincoln Memorial, May 17, 1957, APR Papers, box 35.

47. “Reminiscences of Bayard Rustin” (Typescript, Oral History Research Office,

Columbia University, 1985-1986), 458–59, 516–17.

48. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Playboy Interview: Martin Luther King, Jr.,” in A Testa-

ment of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., ed. James M Washington (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 361. 49. Richard Allen Hildebrand to Randolph, July 2, 1959, APR Papers, box 4. Randolph to Dr. Hildebrand, July 8, 1959, APR Papers, box 4.

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Brotherhood Men and Singing Slackers A. Philip Randolph’s Rhetoric of Music and Manhood Robert Hawkins

“Now we are at the crossroads,” A. Philip Randolph told members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) in 1926.1 And indeed they were. As the BSCP fought for union recognition and the replacement of tips with a living wage, Randolph presented Pullman porters with two paths. They could remain as they were, accepting the demeaning system of labor imposed by the Pullman Company, or they could throw off oppression and dependency by fighting for a new unionnegotiated contract. In Randolph’s words, Pullman service workers had to choose between living as “slacker porters” or rising up as “manly men” who demanded fair pay, representation, and on-the-job dignity.2 Randolph not only portrayed the latter goals as the fair compensation due to laborers, but also linked them to gendered struggles for black humanity by describing them as “manhood rights.”3 According to the BSCP, the porter who demanded these rights by joining the Brotherhood was a model of black manhood; the porter who clung instead to Pullman Company paternalism was an Uncle Tom, a slacker, and less than a man. Through this binary opposition, Randolph constructed an ideal of black working-class manhood founded on dignified work, >> 101 

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for social justice that he understood in predominantly masculine terms.6 A competing view has pointed to the embrace of manhood rights by black women, contending that their backing of the BSCP supports an understanding of the term as a gender-neutral claim to black humanity that had roots in the struggle for emancipation. According to this latter interpretation, the ascription of gender significance to manhood rights unfastens such language from its “historical mooring.”7 BSCP organizers did locate their drive for unionization within a longer lineage of black aspirations for freedom, and their campaign did garner strong support from black women. Yet the Brotherhood also drew on a common language of manhood, utilized by both white and black Americans, which most certainly had masculine connotations.8 When Randolph wrote to praise Special Organizer Frank Crosswaith’s “manly, independent and unselfish” efforts on behalf of the Brotherhood, he was complimenting Crosswaith’s masculine character, not merely acknowledging his humanity.9 Manhood was as much about relationships among men as it was about holding women at a distance.10 Consequently, the meaning of “manhood rights” cannot be reduced to the question of black women’s support. Manhood, in the BSCP and elsewhere, relied on juxtaposition against a variety of negative referents, including childhood and slavery as well as femininity. The Brotherhood defined manhood in contrast to a number of these categories, all of which carried gendered significance. It was in the black musician, however, that Randolph found a symbol of the deviations from dignified work that he viewed as compromising the manhood of Pullman porters. Randolph’s harnessing of masculine work standards to the issues of racial representation surrounding black musicians was more complex than it may appear. Consternation over the reflection of working-class African American behavior on the race as a whole became widespread during the Great Migration as the upper echelons of black society responded to the scorn with which privileged whites viewed black migrants. Randolph’s characterization of itinerant musicians was consistent with both elite black opinion and his own upbringing. Middleclass respectability, however, was somewhat at odds with the Brotherhood’s assertive working-class politics. While today’s union advocates remind the public that the labor movement built the American middle class, many early twentieth-century labor leaders would have bristled

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BSCP propaganda presented the drive for unionization as a struggle both for economic emancipation and black manhood. With The Chrysalis, the BSCP contrasted these goals with the caricature of a black street musician. Image courtesy of the Newberry Library.

the BSCP hoped to represent, however, the tendency of characterizations of black musicians to tarnish all black men was doubly threatening. Misleading as they may have been, the superficial similarities between the two occupations—mobility, tip-taking, the need to endear oneself to customers—were too obvious to ignore. For A. Philip Randolph, the conflation of service work with musical itinerancy demanded correction and provided a powerful source of rhetorical ammunition with which to defend the manhood of the black Pullman porter. No document bears better evidence of Randolph’s use of itinerant musicians as negative referents than the image entitled The Chrysalis, which the BSCP incorporated into one of its 1926 Bulletins—one page publications, which, in the opinion of a Pullman Company informant,

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offering of a religious faith that was simultaneously fortified with uncompromising black independence and sobered by conventions of middle-class respectability. His father’s lessons in the importance of refined personal comportment—which extended to warnings that the worship practices of Baptists represented “a lower breed” of religion— came paired with an early introduction into circles of black political resistance.16 It was while standing in his father’s shadow at an AME convention, for example, that Randolph met the renowned activist Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. Randolph did not go on to become a leader in the AME church as his father had hoped and eventually stopped attending services altogether. However, his relationship to religion remained complex. Indeed, Randolph’s pro-union rhetoric of the 1920s clearly bore the stamp of his AME background, harnessing the pursuit of black socioeconomic advancement to the maintenance of middle-class respectability, as well as to porters’ religious convictions. While respectability was never an end in itself for Randolph, his efforts on behalf of the BSCP revealed perspectives on music, social comportment, and manhood that were not so dissimilar from those evident in the AME church at the time.17 Founded in 1816 as the first black denomination in the United States, the AME church had a proud tradition of black independence. In the late 1880s, Bishop Daniel E. Payne believed that the church had also granted African Americans a greater sense of their “heaven-created manhood.”18 That sense of black manliness had often come at the expense of eradicating traditional worship practices that harkened back to an African or slave past in the name of respectability. Payne and likeminded leaders targeted black popular music in particular in order to establish middle-class comportment. By the mid-1920s, as Randolph assumed the leadership of the BSCP, the AME churches that dotted urban black neighborhoods were characterized by the sounds of European classical music and spirituals reproduced via Western notation, not the call-and-response that formed the sonic profile of more rural, grassroots black services. As southern African Americans increasingly migrated to northern cities, however, the AME’s position on black music represented only one side in a cultural clash that touched all black religious institutions, from Old Line Protestants to newly proliferating storefront churches. The new migrants’ behavior and cultural

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compatible with radical social objectives. In Randolph’s hands, emphasis on male breadwinning, adherence to gender and familial norms, and disapproval of panhandling became means to improve the dignity and economic prospects of black workers rather than bars with which to demarcate intra-racial class divisions. Of course, this does not absolve Randolph from responsibility for the problematic class dynamics that accompanied his implementation of middle-class gender standards. Indeed, his attempt to guide porters out of the masculine gutter symbolized by street performance introduced a discordant note of bourgeois racial uplift into an otherwise harmonious pairing of race consciousness with labor-based manhood. Nonetheless, that Randolph deployed such constructs in the service of advancing working-class black concerns is a distinction worth noting. Engaging in criticism of black itinerants and their music was culturally comfortable for Randolph, given his background, but pragmatism likely played the larger role in shaping his strategy. The established symbolism of black musicality was simply too well-suited to the BSCP’s struggle for Randolph to pass up. The utility of itinerant musicians to Randolph’s rhetoric stemmed from the porter’s place in the history of black labor and migration. When George Pullman introduced sleeping cars during Reconstruction, he hired black men as porters in order to pair luxury with an imitation of the racial hierarchies of the prewar South. As passengers traveled on Pullman’s palace cars, their every request would be met by the submissive attentions of black servants. Yet while porters’ work was difficult, their positions offered pay and status superior to those of most jobs open to black men, granting provisional membership in the black middle class. Porters’ smart uniforms projected a professional role far removed from dirty manual labor, and the job allowed them to take this status on the road, crisscrossing the nation at a time when vagrancy laws aggressively curtailed African Americans’ freedom of movement. The desirability of working as a Pullman porter was a matter of weighing pay, position, and mobility against exhausting work, racial submission, and strict standards of conduct. In the early years, many felt the benefits warranted signing on.23 But this balance gradually shifted, tilting the scales against the porters. While the Pullman Company cultivated its reputation as a model of welfare capitalism, advantages were extended at the company’s pleasure, and its paternalism was a thin veneer for anti-unionism. Over

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they demanded “A living wage . . . that is certain and upon which a self respecting [sic] man can support his family without depending upon tips which are degrading”; second, they asked that porters’ wages be figured “upon an hourly basis, like the conductors”; and, finally, he fumed, “We want our self-respect, our manhood.”27 As Randolph’s words indicate, the Brotherhood saw the goals of attaining a living wage for black porters, strengthening the black family, and earning equality with white labor as inherently connected. Central to all of these goals was the issue of tips, the contingent wages that supplemented the incomes of porters as well as other black workers like musicians and shoeshine “boys.” Randolph believed that the cultivation of black workers’ pride in themselves and their race was essential to realizing the goals of interracial worker solidarity and equitable racial integration.28 Only when black laborers respected themselves would they earn the respect of white labor. Thus, taking tips threatened to undermine both porters’ view of themselves and the image they presented to potential white allies. Indeed, a cartoon on a BSCP Bulletin imagined white America observing the Brotherhood’s efforts while musing, “How can a race win its rights while it begs for a living?”29 As this cartoon indicates, the equation of accepting tips with begging was not only an assault on the actual practice but also a handy metaphor for castigating supplication before the Pullman Company. In the Brotherhood’s view, the advancement of black unionism, the maintenance of black manhood, and the fostering of interracial labor solidarity all demanded an end to Pullman porters’ dependence on the tipping system, both literal and symbolic. Although the Pullman Company defended tipping as an enhancement to the porters’ regular wages, Randolph likened it to begging, arguing that the practice fostered an unequal relationship that encouraged porters to engage in humiliating behavior in hope of compensation from passengers. “A tip-taker for a living,” Randolph argued, “frowns and bends the knee in order to induce a feeling of generous geniality in prospective tippers, for herein lies his bread and butter. But fawning and singing and grinning and doing a buck and wing are not necessary elements of good service.”30 Randolph’s description made musical performances such as singing and dancing (the buck and wing) metaphors for the supplication involved in working for tips. This asymmetrical relationship was also a gendered one for, as a 1926 BSCP pamphlet

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endeavors of many black male leaders, including Randolph, relied on monetary and organizational support from beauticians, whose entrepreneurship in a female-controlled realm of the black economy granted them financial and political autonomy. One might reasonably wonder how Randolph reconciled his gendered rhetoric in the Messenger with his own financial dependence on his wife, Lucille, and use of her beauty salon’s profits to support the magazine. Like his criticism of itinerant musicians, Randolph’s discussion of gender roles was not entirely consistent with the realities of black working-class life. Nonetheless, his language is indicative of the Brotherhood’s tendency to articulate its efforts through ideals of male breadwinning that obscured the wage labor of Pullman maids and relegated porters’ wives and, later, the BSCP’s Ladies Auxiliary to supporting roles. Although the idea of “manhood rights” appealed to clubwomen and others in black communities, there is no denying the masculine focus the phrase lent to the struggle.36 Correspondingly, Randolph’s complaint depicted the tipping system as a cloak that concealed the undermining of black male breadwinners, economic threats to the black family, and the encroachment of the commercial sphere into the private space of the black household. So long as porters relied on tips, Randolph implied, both their manhood and the ability of their families to conform to middle-class patriarchal norms would be in jeopardy. “To be compelled to rely upon the charity of the public in order to support one’s family, despite the hard work one performs,” Randolph insisted, “is degrading, and most porters feel so.”37 And of the porter who defended tipping Randolph explained, “it simply shows that the system is gradually dehumanizing him, converting him into a piece of inanimate equipment of the cars, insensible to the things that bring a flush of shame to the cheek of more manly men.”38 According to Randolph, the black man who willingly worked for tips not only renounced his race pride and surrendered his manhood, but abdicated his humanity as well; he ceased to be a working man and became a tool, another cog in Pullman’s money-making machine. Randolph routinely invoked porters’ identities as husbands and fathers to emphasize the impossibility of reconciling tipping and company paternalism with the gendered notion of “manhood rights.” Through BSCP publications, he linked union membership with manhood and the successful discharge of responsibilities to race and family

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and disgust.”41 As the language of the Bulletin indicates, Randolph not only sought to convince porters that tip-taking and acceptance of company terms were degrading, but also reminded them that their actions were being observed and their manhood evaluated by their wives, by their children, by their fellow porters, and by white society. Although such rhetoric and images like The Chrysalis attest powerfully to the Brotherhood’s susceptibility to panoptic self-regulation, Randolph’s concern over public perception of the black porter was by no means delusional or paranoid. His concerns with respectability, like those of the broader black middle-class, did not spring up in the absence of external pressures. White observers were indeed evaluating black men, while racial caricatures of shiftless musicality—and of porters themselves—competed with Brotherhood propaganda to influence public opinion. Images of black musicians circulating in popular culture routinely painted African Americans as lazy, unintelligent, economically dependent, and incapable of discharging the duties of manhood. The shared practice of tipping reinforced these associations and blurred the distinction between respectable service work and ingratiating performance. For Randolph, the threat lay not only in the negative trends of popular representation but rather in the reality that social distance between porters and musical itinerants, though tangible, was seldom hard and fast. Furthermore, distinctions disappeared almost entirely when the Pullman porter and the musical itinerant were, as in the case of blues artist Big Bill Broonzy, one in the same person. Broonzy, who labored as both musician and porter as his economic needs dictated, was a literal embodiment of the perceived threat posed to the Brotherhood by the interchangeability of musical performance and Pullman service. Yet, despite Randolph’s rhetorical strategies, Broonzy’s story suggests that the concerns of black Pullman porters articulated by the BSCP were not so dissimilar from those facing working-class black musicians. Born in Scott, Mississippi, in 1898, Broonzy grew up in the farming communities of Mississippi and Arkansas. After serving in the army during World War I, he migrated north, working as a porter and honing his musical skills under Papa Charlie Jackson, a popular recording artist and itinerant performer on Chicago’s Maxwell Street.42 Like many porters, Broonzy belonged to a generation of African Americans who increasingly abandoned agricultural labor and

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to be Called a Man” unless he encountered them in the relative safety of working-class black social spaces. Broonzy did not record his song for decades. Similarly, record labels later considered his more famous protest piece, “Black, Brown, and White,” which condemns Jim Crow segregation and racial disparities in pay, too controversial to record until well into the 1950s.45 For Broonzy and other black musicians, party songs and sexually suggestive lyrics, which violated conventions of middle-class respectability, remained the norm in the 1920s and were accompanied by only the most carefully veiled protests. Thus, there was little in the way of transparent, recorded evidence to dissuade Randolph from using black musicians as symbols of subservience and accommodation. On record, at least, it was all but impossible for black artists to engage in the dignified and direct assertion of “manhood rights” that might have openly brought them into harmony with Randolph’s goals for working-class African Americans. White music, by contrast, was regularly able to appropriate porters’ voices in a manner that reduced them to the most groveling of entertainers. Even where the fluid movement between the two occupations exemplified by Bill Broonzy was lacking, popular music produced by whites drew on porters’ mobility, tip-taking, and apparent supplication to connect them to the irregular labor of itinerant musicians. Taken from the 1921 composition “Pullman Porter Blues,” the lines “Since I left my home and started on railroads to roam / I get nothing but abuse / So tell me what’s the use?” could easily have expressed the struggles of those working as either porters or itinerant musicians.46 These lyrics only hint at the tendency of early twentieth-century popular culture to blur the line between service on the sleeping cars and musical entertainment. Porters were the theme of recordings by popular artists from singer/comedian Al Jolson to tenor Billy Murray and provided humorous subject matter to lyricists such as Irving Berlin. Berlin’s words for the 1913 song “Pullman Porters Parade,” for example, portrayed the black porters’ labors as comic amusement for onlookers, mocking their work ethic and manhood with the lines: “Look at flatfooted Mose / See him juggling his hat as he goes / See the struggling of bow-legged Joe / Don’t he go rather slow? / Watch him stepping on the ground like a hen!”47 Berlin crafted such language to appeal to the cultural preferences of potential consumers. Just as Pullman’s

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Popular culture regularly depicted black men as unmanly and naturally musical. Pullman-themed songs and musical performances also encouraged the notion that porters were entertainers. Cover to “Pullman Porter Blues,” 1921. Image from the author’s collection.

exacerbated by the line “I got a brand new job—a tip collector.”50 These printed caricatures were complemented by sonic blackface acts such as WGN radio’s “Pullman Porters,” a white vocal quartet that the station promoted as “four grinning ‘yes suh’ boys.”51 To successfully advance unionism among porters and cultivate his vision of black working-class manhood, Randolph needed to distance the labor of the porter from that of the musical entertainer. The conflation of the porter with the musician was not exclusive to recordings, radio, and sheet music. It was also a pressing workplace issue and the subject of skirmishes between Randolph and supporters of the Pullman Company. One of the company’s strategies for building morale while adding to the amusement of its customers was to form Pullman porter bands and vocal quartets.52 Pullman apologists portrayed these musical groups—which carried no additional pay for the porters—as perks for employees. For instance, Claude Barnett, founder of the Associated Negro Press (ANP) and publisher of Heebie Jeebies magazine, spoke glowingly of the company’s decision to “capitalize the racial gift of music.”53 Indeed, Barnett defended the company so

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Randolph did not restrict his tirades against the singing of porters to condemnation of musical groups. Rather, musical performance— and singing in particular—was his stock metaphor for collaboration and acceptance of company paternalism, whether by porters or by bourgeois leaders in black communities. Attacking Pullman’s supporters, Randolph sneered that porters who cautioned against joining the Brotherhood “are always singing to let well alone [and]  .  .  . that the time isn’t right for the porters to stand up like men.”59 The Brotherhood further associated singing with accommodation in a leaflet addressing the company-dominated Pullman Porters Benefit Association (PPBA). Taking aim at “unscrupulous race leaders and BIG NEGROES,” the flyer warned porters that “If they can keep your DELEGATE singing, praying and dancing he CANNOT think.”60 As elsewhere, the Brotherhood crafted a message that made thought the province of the prounion “New Porter” while “singing” signified the collusion of the Slacker-Porter.61 Furthermore, rather than accepting company control of the PPBA, the Brotherhood urged porters to “elect some one [sic] who has the glowing aspiration to be a MAN—not a SLAVE, but a MAN  .  .  . Send a MAN as your DELEGATE.” Significantly, the flyer derived its rhetoric of slavery and manhood not only from longstanding black struggles for freedom, but from the oratory of Socialist Party firebrand Eugene V. Debs, whose words the leaflet appropriated.62 The BSCP’s use of manhood as a rallying cry for social justice, then, owed a certain debt to white labor radicals.63 The insertion of singing and other musical metaphors for supplication into that rhetoric, however, appears to be a unique contribution of Randolph’s. It was in the above context and amid the BSCP’s appeal before the National Mediation Board that The Chrysalis appeared. Given the problems that working-class black musicians posed for the BSCP, the black masculine binary that the image presented was not simply an opposition between the race-conscious and labor-conscious manliness of the Brotherhood men and the supplication of slacker-porters who refused to challenge the Pullman Company. Nor was it limited to drawing a distinction between the wage labor of the unionized porter and unmanly tip-taking. The Chrysalis also differentiated the dignified labor of unionized, black working-class men from the actual work of workingclass black musicians.

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beggars, collaborators, and other tip-takers—literal and metaphorical—whose methods of survival reinforced racial dependency. By joining the BSCP, these materials argued, the porter would improve his ability to support his family, demonstrate pride in his race, and be better able to organize his household in accordance with middleclass norms. To what extent porters truly invested in every aspect of these arguments is difficult to ascertain. The lines separating porters from other black migrants were indistinct, and many would have had friends and relatives in less-respectable occupations. Consequently, porters’ attitudes as to the accuracy of such distinctions were likely quite varied. That black musicians would predominantly have rejected such circumscribed notions of work and manhood, however, seems far more certain. Notes

1. A. Philip Randolph, “To the Brotherhood Men,” Messenger 8, no. 11 (November

1926): 327.

2. A. Philip Randolph, “The Slacker-Porter” Messenger 8, no. 6 (June 1926): 176; A.

Philip Randolph, “Pullman Porters Need Own Union” Messenger 7, no. 8 (August 1925): 290; and A. Philip Randolph, “A Reply to Pullman Propaganda” Messenger 8, no. 10 (October 1926): 293. 3. Melinda Chateauvert, Marching Together: Women and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 55; and Beth Tompkins Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925–1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 7–9. 4. On historiography of race, class, and work in the decades following Randolph’s death, see Joe William Trotter, Jr., “African-American Workers: New Directions in U.S. Labor Historiography,” Labor History 35 (Fall 1994): 495–523; and Eric Arnesen, “Up from Exclusion: Black and White Workers, Race, and the State of Labor History,” Reviews in American History 26 (March 1998): 146–74. For more recent explorations of black workers, see Eric Arnesen, ed., The Black Worker: A Reader (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007). On Randolph’s as champion of the black working class, see Andrew E. Kersten, A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007), vii–viii. On the BSCP and black activism, see Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics, 6–7. On the gender complexities of “manhood rights,” see Chateauvert, Marching Together, 4–5. 5. On black masculinity in the early twentieth century, see Martin Summers, Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 6;

124  125 22. Eric Arnesen, “The Quicksands of Economic Insecurity: African Americans,

Strikebreaking, and Labor Activism in the Industrial Era,” in Arnesen, The Black Worker, 44–45; Kersten, A. Philip Randolph, 33, 36–37; and Beth Tompkins Bates, “Mobilizing Black Chicago: The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Community Organizing, 1925–35,” in Arnesen, The Black Worker, 196–97. 23. Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics, 17–24, 41; James R. Grossman, Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 110, 129, 139; Eric Arnesen, Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 87; and Jack Santino, Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle: Stories of Black Pullman Porters (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 8, 14–15, 119–21. 24. Grossman, Land of Hope, 74. 25. Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics, 18–20, 24–25, 41–42, 49; Arnesen, Brotherhoods of Color, 59, 87; and Grossman, Land of Hope, 36, 74, 110, 128, 183, 185, 187. 26. Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics, 8–9, 30–31, 51; and Arnesen, Brotherhoods of Color, 59, 87–90. 27. Letter from Randolph on BSCP letterhead, July 20, 1926, PCR/BSCP, box 17, folder 490. 28. George Hutchinson, “Mediating ‘Race’ and ‘Nation’: The Cultural Politics of The Messenger,” African American Review 28, no. 4 (Winter 1994): 533. 29. “Yellow Dog Contract” Bulletin from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, September 1, 1928, PCR/BSCP, box 17, folder 493. 30. Randolph, “A Reply to Pullman Propaganda”; Bates, 22–23; and Chateauvert, 54–55. 31. “The Pullman Porter” (1926), quoted in Bynum, A. Philip Randolph and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 121. 32. Randolph, “A Reply to Pullman Propaganda,” 293. 33. Ibid; W. E. B. Du Bois, Dark Princess: A Romance (1928; repr., Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995), 50. 34. Randolph, “A Reply to Pullman Propaganda,” 293. 35. A. Philip Randolph, “An Open Letter to Mr. E. F. Carry Pres. The Pullman Company,” Messenger 8, no. 1 (January 1926): 29. 36. On beauticians: Tiffany Gill, Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 2–3, 51–53, 56–57. On women’s secondary role: Chateauvert, Marching Together, xi–xiv, 2–11. On clubwomen and manhood rights: Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics, 9. 37. Randolph, “A Reply to Pullman Propaganda,” 293. 38. Ibid. 39. Untitled cartoon, Messenger 8, no. 1 (January 1926): 14.

126  127 60. “A Few Suggestions to the Members of the P.P.B.A,” undated BSCP flyer, PCR/

BSCP, box 17, folder 490.

61. “The New Negro” Messenger 9, no. 1 (January 1927), cover. 62. Some language on this leaflet was drawn verbatim from Debs’s 1923 speech,

“Appeal to Negro Workers.” See Bynum, A. Philip Randolph and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 73. 63. See Bynum, A. Philip Randolph and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 73; and Chateauvert, Marching Together, 4–5. 64. Chateauvert, Marching Together, 14; and Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics, 10–12, 126, 150–87.

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“The Spirit and Strategy of the United Front” Randolph and the National Negro Congress, 1936–1940 Erik S. Gellman

A. Philip Randolph stood with great pride before an audience of four thousand people on Friday, October 22, 1937, at the Philadelphia Opera House. The occasion was his plenary speech to the second convention of the National Negro Congress (NNC). Sidelined by the “grippe” the previous year, Randolph had not attended the inaugural NNC convention in Chicago; he spent much of 1936 bedridden in New Jersey and then Harlem, unable to travel or speak to large audiences. But in 1937, he bounced back with renewed energy and could claim that he had finally brought the Pullman Company “to its knees.”1 No doubt everyone in the audience at this gathering knew that Randolph had only weeks earlier presided over the signing of the first contract between the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and the company that had fought for more than a decade to thwart it. Despite the loss of hundreds of jobs and desperate financial conditions over this twelve-year-long struggle, the porters triumphed through a steadfast faith in their cause and their leader. Their contract symbolized a new day for black labor in America. Over eight thousand porters would now receive $1.25 million in cumulative pay raises, overtime pay, and other benefits. Along with >> 129 

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president, effectively resigning from the leadership position he had held for the past four years.5 This chapter seeks to explain why Randolph left the NNC, even as the group gained strength and national prominence. In so doing, this chapter explores Randolph’s ideas and actions during the pivotal period of his career between the genesis of the NNC in 1935 and the early 1940s, just after the United States entered the war and Randolph became the most recognized national civil rights leader in America. During these years, Randolph navigated a complicated political terrain as president of the BSCP while engaging with a broader “united front” coalition of labor and civil rights groups as the head of the NNC. Although many historians have focused on his BSCP role, few have analyzed his NNC leadership of the late 1930s.6 Prior to these years, Randolph crossed class lines to successfully persuade many black workers, ministers, and middle-class civic leaders to endorse unionism instead of welfare paternalism and strikebreaking. By the mid-1930s, Randolph’s activism had helped to create fertile ground for a younger group of civil rights and labor activists. These groups, epitomized by NNC councils in urban black communities and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) unions in the labor movement, coalesced to form the antifascist black “united front.” The emergence of these new organizations offered Randolph an unprecedented opportunity to build a much larger and more militant antiracist coalition—thus expanding his role as a charismatic champion of labor. But this renewed labor and civil rights activism, especially among the working class, exacerbated tensions between older and newer strategists who sought to organize workers, advance the race, and mobilize people through political parties. This became especially important in Randolph’s personal leadership style, which embraced a middle-class elite respectability. This in turn both helped legitimize the new NNC with established African American churches and uplift organizations, and embodied a class position that did not necessarily conform to organizing less skilled workers as well as endorse strikes, boycotts, and mass marches. These divergences in ideas and tactics appeared most notably between the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the CIO, the National Association for the Advancement of

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adopted in conventions, in favor of the organization of the Negro workers, are poor and well-nigh meaningless gestures.” This empty rhetoric had not reshaped the agendas of individual unions, he explained, and therefore “something much more drastic is necessary.”7 That more drastic action, Randolph contended, needed to come from black workers. In the second half of his talk, Randolph addressed how the African American community’s internal politics could contribute to a larger vision of a movement for economic and racial justice. “Negroes have very few workers of hand or brain,” he lamented, “who possess either the class understanding, the moral character in terms of tenacity, the will to sacrifice, the vision and courage to fight for the execution of a long-range program of labor organization among Negroes.” Randolph attributed this lack of organizing acumen to black workers themselves, but he also explained that working-class African Americans had been “incalculably hindered by Negro leadership” and the “doubtful service” of the black intellectuals who had opposed labor unions on the basis of their elite class interest or because the AFL practiced racial discrimination. Destroying Jim Crow in unions would have to be accompanied by a “program of construction,” which “is the task of Negroes themselves.” In short, Randolph called for a movement of black workers who would experience “an ordeal by fire” to realize their own power and break down the color bar not just to “improve their lot in terms of wages and hours,” but also to orient them to the “larger objective of industrial and political democracy.”8 The National Negro Congress was created to bring such a movement into fruition. John P. Davis, a Harvard-trained attorney, intellectual, and civil rights leader in Washington, along with other early NNC champions, sought Randolph for the presidency of their new organization because of his advocacy of black labor unionism since the 1920s. Randolph’s supporters also pointed to his deserved reputation for integrity and charismatic leadership among black workers and even some prominent middle-class black leaders.9 During the summer of 1935, Randolph approved Davis’s call to form such a “united front organization.” As he had done at the Howard University gathering, Randolph again emphasized the need for the “Negro to fight both the external enemies” and “his own internal impotency.” He claimed that “a united front seems to offer a sound basis of power with which to beat down the barriers

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that remained his first priority. In July 1935, the porters voted 5,931 to 1,422 for the BSCP as their bargaining agent, which gave them government certification to negotiate with the Pullman Company. “This is a notable victory,” a Pittsburgh Courier reporter claimed, because “these workers have been fighting one of the richest corporations . . . and have had to contend with swarms of stool pigeons and spies, with hundreds of members losing their jobs.” On top of that battle, “many politicians and churchmen and journalists did their utmost to destroy this effort,” including the parent body of the union, the AFL, which did “little to aid in this fight.”13 On the latter problem, Randolph decided to do more than protest AFL discrimination against black workers. During the summer before the NNC formed, Davis and NAACP attorney Charles H. Houston testified at hearings in Washington, D.C. against AFL color bars and separate locals. Randolph approved, calling for hearings around the country to expose the problem of AFL racial discrimination. He also showed up to the Atlantic City annual conference of the AFL that October with a group of black workers organized by the Urban League, who picketed outside the convention hotel with signs that read “Fools and Cowards Cut Their Own Throats” and “Expel the Traitors! Get Rid of Jim Crow.”14 Both the AFL and the Pullman Company stood firm. At the AFL convention, its president, William Green, presented an executive committee report that said nothing about race discrimination. In fact, the executive committee watered down and then largely ignored the report of an AFL special committee created the year before to address race discrimination within its unions. In protest, white United Mine Workers’ leader John Brophy resigned from the committee, calling it “merely a face-saving device . . . rather than an honest attempt to find a solution to the Negro problem in the American labor movement.” For his part, Randolph took the floor of the convention to ask, “Why should a Negro worker be penalized for being black?” Randolph demanded a real discussion of the special committee’s report. Green retorted by questioning whether the AFL national body “has the authority to say to an autonomous international union how to draft its laws.”15 Freedom to discriminate won out over the substantive rights of black workers. Meanwhile, the Pullman Company issued its reply to the BSCP vote. It would not negotiate with the BSCP, claiming it had provided over

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that the failure of your Party to take any active part in the struggle of Negroes . . . will make difficult its attempt to have any influence among Negro people. Suspicion breeds suspicion. And I am afraid that I must say you are a long way from crossing the railroad tracks and reaching the Negro workers.” In the end, the Socialists sent three observers to the Chicago NNC founding conference.18 The leadership of the NAACP in New York also hesitated to join the NNC coalition, viewing its formation as an organizational and political threat. The NNC’s leaders explained that this new organization of organizations did not seek to compete with the NAACP program but rather aimed to bring together its forces with others in the field. NAACP executive secretary Walter White, however, did not believe in the NNC’s cooperative intentions. Shortly before the conference, he wrote to Randolph claiming that a previous engagement in Syracuse would prevent him from attending, and scribbled in the margin of his letter, “Do hope Congress is not permitted to be ‘sold down the river’ to any political group. Have heard many disturbing rumors.” Randolph wrote in reply, “I assure you that so far as I have any power, the Congress will not be ‘sold down the river’ . . . however, it is well to be ever vigilant.”19 Overall, Randolph clearly wanted the NNC to emerge as a mass organization with great power, but he seemed to have little political capital to convince his skeptical allies in the BSCP, the Socialist Party, or the NAACP to follow his lead in building a “united front” against fascism. Despite these setbacks in planning and continued criticism from a few conservative black officials, the first NNC convention in Chicago proved a resounding success. Over 750 delegates from twenty-eight states traveled to the South Side of Chicago on a bitterly cold February weekend to participate in the conference. Outside the Eighth Regiment Armory, thousands more huddled around loudspeakers to listen to the proceedings. “I have never seen so many big shots together in my life,” one delegate contended, but “there seemed to be no big I’s and little U’s [because] everyone was bent on getting something done.” Charles Burton, a local attorney and BSCP ally, read Randolph’s speech in full as the audience listened with rapt attention. “Pointing a means of action,” the author Richard Wright wrote of Randolph’s words that “each sentence is a blow of logic breaking a new path.” In Wright’s assessment, Randolph called for nothing less than “a new Bill of Rights for the Negro people”

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After the Chicago convention, delegates went back to organize with a specific emphasis on unionizing black workers. This strategy developed into a two-pronged attack. The first was for the NNC to promote the “Randolph Resolution” that called for the elimination of barriers against black workers in the AFL. This method highlighted the BSCP’s persistent efforts to become accepted as a craft union. Now, however, the NNC hoped to force the AFL to endorse its rhetoric and enforce antidiscrimination among its member unions. The other prong was organizing industrial workers into interracial unions, which inspired both excitement and fear among NNC members given the tragic history of such attempts. This new strategy became possible through Section 7a of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which provided employees with the right to organize and collectively bargain with employers. At the same 1935 Atlantic City convention where Randolph protested the foot-dragging of the AFL on matters of race, John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, along with a few other union leaders demanded the organization of industrial workers. When the conservative wing of the AFL voted them down, a fistfight broke out on the convention floor between Lewis and Will Hutcheson of the Carpenters Union, and after the convention, these renegade unions formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations. John P. Davis saw this development as an opportunity for black workers. “The allegiance of Negro workers,” he wrote, represented a “decisive factor in the battle” for the CIO experiment. Davis negotiated with the CIO’s leaders in 1936 so that the NNC would provide savvy African American organizers to support efforts to unionize the interracial industrial workforce of the steel industry. By getting in on the ground floor of the CIO, Davis and other NNC members sought to create the union as a powerful ally and ultimately a vehicle for civil rights activism. The NNC and other supporters of the CIO “are not writing the CIO a blank check,” Davis explained, and “once Negro workers are in the union, it must be our task and theirs to see to it that there is complete trade union democracy.” By organizing as many as 85,000 black steel workers in 1936 and then moving into other industries with significant black workers, the NNC had the opportunity to “win economic freedom” from “wage slavery,” as well as to build mass support “in our struggle for democratic rights and

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from using the front door and then shied away from giving him directions to the meeting hall inside the hotel. When asked about the convention, Randolph claimed the applause from some delegates for his speech represented a “distinct improvement” to previous years, but still the AFL balked on passing his antidiscrimination resolutions or even treating him with the dignity accorded his fellow union delegates. In the meantime, other NNC leaders and members began to wonder whether Randolph’s AFL strategy was a dead end and an affront to their distinguished leader, especially in view of the success of the CIO’s interracial organizing approach.26 Given the indifference that bordered on humiliation each year at the AFL convention, why did Randolph maintain his tactics rather than formulating different angles of attack? Historians have proposed different explanations for his approach, including his lack of power over the BSCP executive council in decision-making after the disastrous aborted 1928 strike, the need for the porters to remain in the AFL with other railroad unions, and Randolph’s unwillingness to submerge the small number of porters in a sea of industrial workers within the CIO.27 Moreover, Randolph’s 1936 position may have been related to the fact that the Pullman Company and the Brotherhood finally came to a contractual agreement the following year. Randolph may have had the foresight to know not to personally upset the AFL executives, especially William Green, when upcoming negotiations looked promising. In September 1936, Green joined Randolph in Chicago to publicly issue the BSCP an international charter, placing it on par with the other unions in the federation. A year later, Green clearly had felt the sting of the public critique by the NNC. In replying to a letter from John P. Davis about endorsing the NNC’s anti-lynching campaign, Green did not mince words. “It is difficult for me to understand why and how you could write me soliciting the help and support of the American Federation of Labor for any measure,” he fumed, because “your attitude . . . has been one of offensive opposition and antagonism.” Probably referring to his collaboration with Randolph, Green conceded that “if you have some representative of the National Negro Congress in whom I have confidence and who at least maintains a fair attitude . . . write me requesting me to give support to the Wagner-Van Nuys Anti-Lynching Bill, I will respond.”28

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of John P. Davis’s agreements with John L. Lewis mandating that the CIO pay him and other NNC organizers. By February 1937, the NNC and the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) assembled 165 steelworker delegates at a meeting in Pittsburgh to map out a national campaign. This conference featured Philip Murray of the CIO, who emphasized “political emancipation” and “economic liberty” through a “strong union.” Black labor and civic leaders at the Pittsburgh conference, including Randolph, called for labor organizing as the basis of economic and political power for African Americans.31 Throughout 1937, black industrial workers across the nation continued joining this organizing drive. The Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC), well ahead of any attempt by the AFL or CIO, began to unionize tobacco workers in Richmond. In Detroit, NNC members collaborated with the United Auto Workers (UAW). When his busy BSCP schedule permitted, Randolph aided these causes. Randolph spoke at the Pittsburgh SWOC conference, and in Detroit during the summer of 1937 he blasted Henry Ford at an NNC and UAW Economic-Industrial Conference at the Bethel AME Church. “The time has come when the Negro must decide between organized labor and organized capital,” he said, “and the day the Negro depended upon the ‘good rich white man’ is gone—and gone forever!” He called upon white and black workers to “build industrial democracy in the nation.”32 Randolph’s respected status among African American working- and middle-class leaders no doubt aided the NNC’s campaigns with the CIO, but these occasional charismatic speeches should not be conflated with the organizing campaigns. For the latter, the NNC developed a new breed of labor organizers. These leaders worked in the trenches to organize workers and helped accomplish the first bona fide interracial industrial unions in the nation’s history.33 Black workers’ dramatic entry into the CIO puts into perspective the differences between these unionists and the AFL, and especially the BSCP. “The New Negro arrived upon the scene,” Randolph wrote in 1920, “after the great world war,” and he understood that the “interests of all Negroes are tied up with the workers.” Although Randolph believed “he is a fool or insane who opposes his interests by supporting the enemy,” this opinion became acceptable in black urban communities only through the decade-long struggle of the Brotherhood.34

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to lead unions. Moreover, almost all of them placed themselves alongside, not above, the rank and file, and identified strongly as working class. They worked as day-to-day organizers, not just charismatic mobilizers. So while Randolph’s leadership pioneered black labor organization, it was not the only model apparent in the late 1930s, and may have not even represented the dominant one. Randolph showed this top-down leadership preference when he tried to manage the growing tensions between black liberal leaders and militants within the NNC. The need for Randolph to step into the widening breach became especially apparent when Davis and others in the NNC expanded their campaigns against police brutality and peonage to lobby for federal anti-lynching legislation. This move drew the ire of NAACP leader Walter White, who had been suspicious and territorial about the NNC since its inception. “We don’t want to incur the ill will of the Association on the grounds that the Congress is trying to steal its thunder,” Randolph wrote to Davis, even if “there may be no grounds for this apprehension.” Unity between the NAACP and the NNC on this anti-lynching fight, he instructed, “is fundamental to the aims and methodology of the Congress.” But Randolph, attracted by the access Walter White had fostered with the Roosevelt administration, began to drift toward further cooperation with the NAACP. This move seemed to fly in the face of the NNC’s more radical wing. Davis expressed shock in April of 1938, writing to Randolph, “When I called Walter a minute ago, he tells me that he invited you to serve on this committee” to see President Roosevelt and that “you have accepted.” Davis suggested that another NNC member be added to the delegation because “I got from Walter’s attitude that he did not wish to have the National Negro Congress represented” even though “this is distinctly not understood at the White House, which is of the opinion that White is securing a representative delegation of all organizations.”38 Randolph assured Davis that he would represent both the Brotherhood and the NNC at the White House conference, but his letter also revealed that his distance from the NNC was widening. He wrote to Davis that he would tour the South for the next month and would return to Washington only for a Brotherhood conference where he would be “unable to suggest any joint program at this time.” Meanwhile, the NAACP leadership purposely excluded the NNC. The “Chicago

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During the Friday opening sessions, the fiery Irish labor leader of the CIO, John L. Lewis, addressed the delegates. Lewis explained that because “all American workers have equal rights” in the CIO, black workers had proved themselves “active and effective in their union membership” and that “banded together [with white workers,] we can secure for ourselves and our children the highest degree of freedom.” For the remainder of his speech, Lewis detailed how the upcoming war threatened to compromise this workers’ movement because “failure to solve domestic problems can often be obscured by the excitement of a foreign war.” Lewis invited the NNC to join Labor’s Non-Partisan League (LPNL) as a political wing of the movement to fight against domestic injustice, reminding the audience that industrialists had profited from the last overseas world war while working-class youth died on its battlefields. “If it is our mission to save Western civilization,” he said, “then let us begin by saving it right here in our own country.”42 Randolph followed in “his usual masterful manner,” in the eyes of one delegate, but the end of his speech “was greeted with very little applause.” Alongside rhetorical flourishes about “striving workers” who had achieved much since the NNC began in 1936, Randolph also said, “The Negro people reject the Communist Party because of its foreign domination.” Randolph still believed the NNC “is not communistic” and encouraged “lovers of democracy” to “strive for the death of the Dies Committee,” which “brands CIO leaders communistic to defeat the objectives of the striving workers.” But his speech clearly indicated his displeasure with the Hitler-Stalin pact and the resultant political hypocrisy among Americans who identified as Communists, which some delegates worried would “Red-bait” the NNC coalition apart.43 The following day, Davis addressed the gathering. As one delegate wrote, “Without a doubt, this little man is the moving force behind the N.N.C.” It did not take long for Davis to show that his vision differed from Randolph’s. He endorsed “the historic address by John L. Lewis last night” because Lewis reminded the NNC that “the Negro people are not fighting alone.” Davis recounted the organizing successes of the NNC and CIO collaboration, including “in the great steel, auto and packing house industries where we have seen Negroes flock by the thousands.” In three years this activity had accounted for a half-million member increase of union membership among African Americans.

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made clear to the editors of the Washington Afro-American, Randolph had always known of these donations and had never expressed opposition to them. Davis operated the NNC on a shoestring budget during the Great Depression, and the two men corresponded about fundraising. “We have not,” Davis said, “received any contributions from any Communist organizations for a good many months,” and “those we did receive amounted to considerably less than 5 percent of the money used to run the Congress.”46 In his own career, Randolph solicited funds from the white philanthropist Charles Garland to keep publishing the Messenger, and the Brotherhood solicited many more thousands of dollars in grants from the Garland Fund, which had oversight by James Weldon Johnson of the NAACP and Norman Thomas of the Socialist Party.47 The NNC’s financing, by comparison, did not seem too much more egregious than Randolph’s own soliciting of funds. Some pundits instead believed Randolph had become conservative in his middle age. Lucius Harper of the Chicago Defender wondered what had become of Randolph, whom he admiringly called “the first ‘New Negro.’” “Has he proven in his Washington rebellion,” Harper asked, “that as time speeds by and progress straps on new and firmer wings that the radical of today is the conservative of tomorrow?” Harper went on to question whether Randolph was now “bereft of his earlier Socialistic ideals,” seemingly unaware of the long history of sectarianism between Socialists and Communists.48 In reply to this fiery critique, Randolph explained that the Soviet Union had become a “totalitarian” state, specifically mentioning “the brave Republic of Finland.” Striking a note of patriotism, Randolph said, “The one chief, main and invaluable quality for which the Negro people are distinguished . . . is loyalty to the United States of America.” Calling this quality a “priceless jewel,” Randolph said that “if we should ever be suspected of abandoning . . . our loyalty to our Fatherland, God help us!”49 Almost all major black newspapers and journals weighed in on the NNC split in Washington, making it the subject of a fierce debate about the future direction of the black freedom struggle. An editorial in the Afro-American in Washington, for example, countenanced the Defender by concluding that “Randolph had the better part of the argument” and that the “best lifebelt a group can wear is American citizenship” rather than “mixing it up with the problems of poor white trash in Europe.”50

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effective organizers in the fight to destroy Jim Crow. The Pullman porters, while important beyond their numbers, still represented only about 6,600 workers compared to hundreds of thousands of black workers in industrial unions who, Davis believed, had the power, if organized, to become a mass movement.53 What Davis did not predict, however, was that the international political landscape would shift again when Germany invaded Russia during the summer of 1941 and the United States entered the war with great popular support after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor that December. As a result of these actions, the CIO signed a no-strike pledge with the government, and the Communists tried to play down matters of racial discrimination at home in favor of the war effort abroad, which stunted this potential labor–civil rights upsurge. Meanwhile, Lewis continued his opposition to the war and endorsed the Republican presidential candidate in 1940. Further, when workers in the CIO largely followed Roosevelt into the war effort, Lewis resigned as CIO head. In late 1941, Davis realized that African American public opinion had also shifted in favor of the war. To help save the NNC, he resigned as its executive secretary in 1942, and the organization subsequently moved its headquarters from Washington to New York. After the split, Randolph landed on his feet and quickly gained notoriety among African Americans in 1941 through the formation of the March on Washington Movement (MOWM). Much to the envy of the NNC, the MOWM threat reached the Oval Office by the summer of 1941 and resulted in Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802 stressing antidiscrimination in wartime employment. Former and even current members of local NNC and especially SNYC councils participated in the MOWM, but the all-black formation was largely composed of anticommunist liberals. During this same period, the NNC engaged in protests against the Glenn L. Martin aircraft company in Baltimore and Washington, supported the UAW strike against Ford Motor Company in the spring of 1941, and launched protests against other discriminatory defense manufacturing plants in Chicago and Los Angeles.54 Thus, while the NNC and the MOWM worked separately in 1941, they often worked on parallel tracks that complemented one another, even if the latter received the bulk of favorable publicity. Beginning in 1942, however, Randolph had problems sustaining his leadership over a broader wartime civil rights campaign when he

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“and when he closed it the MOW had about as much kick left as you’d find in a bottle of skim milk.” Johnson criticized Randolph for telling a West Coast MOWM meeting that “the objective of this committee is not an actual physical march.” The problem, he wrote, was that “too many Negroes . . . actually want to march.” As the war progressed, some MOWM supporters became disaffected because their leader did not seem willing to bring the Washington march to fruition.57 Randolph’s wartime path depended upon the organization of a strong, national mass movement to demand economic equality while also having access to the White House as a means to leverage reform. This strategy worked in 1941 with the threatened march and the resulting executive order, but it became less effective thereafter. By the fall of 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, now with public opinion fully behind the war effort, refused to grant Randolph an audience, and the MOWM’s leaders canceled their proposed Washington mass meeting.58 In a revealing letter to Ed Strong the previous year, Davis claimed that Randolph “has adopted a bankrupt strategy.” While this condemnation stemmed partially from a feeling of betrayal, Davis admitted that Randolph had aligned “many organizations . . . behind this march” and had used effective rhetoric “because the mood of the Negro people is one of militancy.” But Davis also explained that “while pleading for unity,” Randolph “split away from the campaign precisely those forces that would give it the greatest importance, namely the Congress and progressive labor movement.”59 This part of Davis’s analysis largely came to fruition when the MOWM never developed into a sustained mass movement. Randolph became increasingly defensive in trying to explain why the organization demanded integration and disavowed Black Nationalism while restricting its own membership to African Americans. Moreover, Randolph’s alliance with Walter White and the NAACP failed to provide the organization, staff, and numbers for a sustained movement. At the NAACP convention in July 1942, Randolph said, “Negroes wanted their rights NOW and didn’t ‘Give a Damn’ about later.” Fearing this militancy, the NAACP leadership at the convention, according to an editorial by Horace Cayton in the Pittsburgh Courier, “does not want to endanger its position by taking the active leadership of this new upsurge,” but also “does not want to lose some measure of control over,

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shows that Randolph subsumed his feelings about working in a coalition that included Communists for a few short years, and it explains why he abruptly changed direction by interrogating his larger vision for the labor movement as a vehicle for civil rights. His decisions— both in terms of the AFL and backroom conferences with the Roosevelt administration—reveal that he was in equal parts strategically cautious and militant. This historical framing also helps to explain why Shelton Tappes, a fellow trade unionist and NNC leader in Detroit, espoused such a critical perspective on Randolph. In a 1967 interview with NAACP labor secretary Herbert Hill, Tappes stated that Randolph’s “appeal has always been more to the white-collar class than to the working class.” He continued: I look upon the Pullman Porters as an organization that never did grow. They got as high as 9 or 10,000 workers, but no further. As an industrial organization, they could have gotten as high as 25 or 30,000 if they had the kind of people I think the Porters naturally were—in the aircraft industry, those that [Willard] Townsend’s union took in . . . [Randolph] made no effort, no effort at all to take the Pullman Porters beyond a union which he could control.63

The NNC represented an effort by Randolph to ally with industrial unionists like Tappes and to go beyond the boundaries of craft unionism, organize workers on a broad scale, and then harness this power into a movement for labor and civil rights. While Randolph left the NNC, Tappes stayed in it throughout the war years and until the organization collapsed in 1947. “I never considered myself a follower of the Communist line,” he said, “but I was a left winger [and] I’m sure there were many others.” He explained that while Communists brought “programs . . . into the union for the assistance and the support of the union, some openly, some sinisterly,” he also “found that they were people who wanted to better conditions, and the conditions of their fellow workers.”64 For the period of 1935–1940, Randolph shared the idea of opposing all forms of red-baiting for the sake of unity, but with the international shift of the Communist Party in 1939 and increased red-baiting in the United States in general (both

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and reformulate ideas about how to foment and shape the black freedom struggle through the World War II years and into the Cold War when shifting political, economic, and cultural contexts would once again transform his vision and role as part of civil rights, labor, and political protest movements. Notes

1. Randolph cited in William H. Harris, Keeping the Faith: A. Philip Randolph,

Milton Webster, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 1925–1937 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 217. 2. A. Philip Randolph, “The Crisis of the Negro and the Constitution,” speech from the Second National Negro Congress, Philadelphia, October, 1937, in Negro Protest Thought in the Twentieth Century, ed. August Meier and Francis Broderick (New York: Bobs-Merrill, 1965), 180–89. See also James H. Baker, Jr., “A Great Second Congress,” Social Work Today (December 1937): 9–10. 3. Ralph Ellison, “A Congress Jim Crow Didn’t Attend,” New Masses, May 14, 1940, 5–8. 4. L. Newman, “Report of the Third National Negro Congress,” in folder “Correspondence N,” box 3, series 1, Local 212 papers, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI. 5. A. Philip Randolph, “Why I Would Not Stand for Reelection as President of the National Negro Congress,” from American Federationist, July 1940, copy in folder 2, box 279, Claude Barnett Papers, Chicago History Museum, Chicago, IL. 6. The best studies of Randolph in the 1930s include Eric Arnesen, Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001); Harris, Keeping the Faith, Cornelius Bynum, A. Philip Randolph and the Struggle for Civil Rights (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010); and especially Beth Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925–1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000). All of these studies focus upon Randolph’s BSCP leadership from different angles: Arnesen compares railroad union development among African Americans; Harris looks at the national BSCP history and ends his account with the signing of the first contract in 1937; Bynum examines his AFL labor movement activism and anticommunism; and Bates examines the “new crowd” of labor activists, including the Chicago NNC, from the perspective of the Pullman Porters. 7. A. Philip Randolph, “The Trade Union Movement and the Negro,” speech from May 1935, Howard University conference, printed in Journal of Negro Education 5, no. 1 (January, 1936): 54–58. 8. Ibid., 54–55. 9. See Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics, especially chaps. 3–5.

158  159 24. John P. Davis, “‘Plan Eleven’—Jim Crow in Steel,” Crisis 43 (September 1936):

262–63, 276. Randolph’s 1937 NNC Philadelphia speech echoed Davis’s appeal for a “Magna Carta” of “human rights”; see Randolph, “The Crisis of the Negro and the Constitution,” 180. 25. John P. Davis to Randolph, June 6, 1936 (618–69, 7, 1), and Randolph to Davis, November 4, 1936 (646, 7, 1), and December 23, 1936 (680, 7, 1), all NNC papers; “Labor Party Proposal Is Shouted Down,” Baltimore Sun, November 26, 1936. See also A. Philip Randolph in “Select AFL Convention Resolutions on Black Labor,” 1936 and 1938, in The Black Worker from the Founding of the CIO to the AFL-CIO Merger, 1936–1955, ed. Philip S. Foner and Ronald L. Lewis (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1983), 7:422–26, 7:427–40. 26. Ibid., 7: 427–40; and “Labor Federation Fails to Pass Randolph Resolutions,” Los Angeles Sentinel, December 10, 1936. 27. See Darryl Pinckney, “Keeping the Faith,” New York Review of Books, November 22, 1990; Arnesen, Brotherhoods of Color, 114–15, 139; Leon Fink, Progressive Intellectuals and the Dilemmas of Democratic Commitment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 200; and Minton and Stuart, Men Who Lead Labor, 170. Perhaps regretting this decision in an oral history in 1972, Randolph said, “But when we got into the AF of L, that was one step I made that represented nothing but trouble. But I think I’ll leave that for another day.” (He never did return to the topic in this oral history.) See “Reminiscences of A. Philip Randolph” (Typescript, Oral History Research Office, Columbia University, 1973); hereinafter cited as “Reminiscences of A. Philip Randolph.” 28. William Green to John P. Davis, June 29, 1937, (55, 10, 1), NNC papers. 29. Ishmael Flory to John P. Davis, August 30, 1938 (252–53, 16, 1) and May 31, 1939 (994, 17, 1), both NNC papers. 30. “Mr. Flory of the AFL,” editorial, Chicago Defender, April 6, 1940; Willard Townsend to John P. Davis, April 14, 1938 (401–2, 15, 1). For a cogent history of other black-majority railroad unions in comparison to the BSCP, see Arnesen, Brotherhoods of Color, especially chaps. 3 and 5. 31. Van Bittner to John P. Davis, July 18, 1936 (9, 4, 1), NNC papers; “Prominent Negroes Push Steel Drive” and “‘No Discrimination,’ Murray Tells Negroes,” Steel Labor, February 20, 1937, 5. 32. “Henry Ford Assailed by Philip Randolph,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 14, 1937. 33. For an analysis of the NNC and SNYC campaigns in Chicago and Richmond, see Gellman, Death Blow to Jim Crow, chaps. 1–2. 34. A. Philip Randolph, “The New Negro: What Is He?,” Messenger (August 1920): 3. 35. “Reminiscences of A. Philip Randolph,” 203. 36. Melinda Chateauvert, Marching Together: Women of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998), xi, 36, 55. Over the next decades, Randolph continued a leadership strategy that tended to benefit from, yet downplay, the significance of black women as workers, organizers, and civil rights leaders. For the later years, see Will P. Jones, “The Unknown Origins of the

160  161 Death Blow to Jim Crow, 135–43; and NNC News, April 4, 1941, 1–2, in folder “Negro Relations, NNC,” box “Trade Unions, U.S.,” International Longshore and Warehouse Union Papers, Harry Bridges Library, San Francisco, CA. 55. Adam Clayton Powell, “Soapbox,” People’s Voice (New York), December 9, 1944; “Randolph: A.F. of L or The CIO?,” New York Amsterdam News, December 16, 1944; and Dellums to Thomas T. Patterson, December 11, 1945, quoted in Arnesen, Brotherhoods of Color, 110. Townsend quoted in George McCray, “Labor Front,” Chicago Defender, November 28, 1942. 56. “Randolph: A.F. of L or The CIO?,” December 16, 1944, Carl Lawrence, “On the Level,” October 24, 1942, “Pullman Porters Stay in AFL,” October 24, 1942, and Letter from Union Worker, “A.F. of L. and the Negro,” February 8, 1941, all in New York Amsterdam News. 57. “The Labor Front,” Chicago Defender, national edition, November 7, 1942; “New York Masses Protest for Democracy,” June 27, 1942, and “12,000 in Chicago Voice Demands for Democracy,” July 4, 1942, both in Chicago Defender, national edition; Garfinkel, When Negroes March, 97–118, 204–5; Ernie Johnson to Claude Barnett, August 5, 1942, folder 5, box 279, Barnett Papers; “Town Hall: Should Negro Organizations Fighting for Civic Rights Exclude White People from Membership?,” People’s Voice, July 24, 1943; MOWM, “Proceedings of Conference Held in Detroit,” September 26–27, 1942(205–27, 3, 2), NNC Papers; and FBI reports on MOWM from 1943 to 1946 in folder 1, box 1506, Fair Employment Practices Committee Collection, Georgia State University, Special Collections and Archives, Atlanta, GA. 58. “FDR Refuses Audience to Negro Race Leaders,” Chicago Defender, national edition, September 5, 1942; and Julius Adams, “Negro Leaders Must Get More Aggressive in Fight,” New York Amsterdam News, October 17, 1942. 59. John P. Davis to Edward Strong, May 27 1941, (521–23, 29, 1), NNC papers. 60. Horace Cayton, “Randolph Stole Show,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 25, 1942, and “NAACP ‘March,’” Pittsburgh Courier, October 10, 1942. 61. “‘To Save Soul of America’—Randolph,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 26, 1942. For more about the MOWM campaigns in local contexts see the David Lucander chapter in this volume. 62. Bates’s Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America follows Randolph and the MOWM after the split but not the NNC’s parallel jobs discrimination protests. Bynum’s A. Philip Randolph and the Struggle for Civil Rights spends only two pages evaluating the NNC, and his chapter on the late 1930s, “Where Class Consciousness Falls Short,”examines only the AFL. Manning Marable’s critical account of Randolph concluded that he “preferred class compromise to class struggle” in terms of prioritizing “winning higher wages and shorter working hours for the Brotherhood.” Marable considers the NNC “one of the most advanced coalitions of black activists ever assembled” and says that Randolph left it “after realizing he could no longer control the leftists in it.” Yet Marable hardly elaborated on the activism of the NNC (or CIO or SNYC); he

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labor and civil rights, the “progress” of African American women in the workplace and politics was curtailed. Sexism, it should be noted, was mostly a “nonissue” until black women began to question the male privilege engrained in the concept of “manhood rights” and citizenship.3 It was then that “Jane Crow” had to go—along with the “pink teas,” “decorating the room,” making the coffee, typing the memos, and running the mimeograph machines.4 This paradox of push-pull progress and regression deserves consideration. In the next section, I consider the three women in Randolph’s early life who served as his role models. He learned from them to appreciate the essential work that women performed as mothers, teachers, and wives. This appreciation was reflected in his eagerness later to include women in his organizing work and to learn from them. From these examples, I sketch the ways in which gender roles were enmeshed in Randolph’s ideas about racial equality and, as a result, dictated the ways women participated. “Citizenship” and “respectability” were gendered concepts that represented the aspirations of African American men and women. The final section of this chapter considers the work that women did in Washington, D.C., to advance Randolph’s political goals. From the time Randolph assumed editorial control of the Messenger to his directorship of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, women’s labor was his most valuable organizing resource. * * * Early in his life, Randolph learned how resilient and tough women could be. They were role models who demonstrated courage and ingenuity and who taught him to defend the community. His mother, Elizabeth Randolph, was “beautiful,” “radiant,” “firm,” and possessed “the rigidity of a corporal.”5 Her religious views may have placed her husband, a selfemployed tailor and AME minister, at the head of the house, but clearly she was its driving force. Biographer Cornelius Bynum writes that Elizabeth Randolph “despised cowardice.”6 She expected her sons and her husband to stand up for themselves and for others while she protected the house. There is a story about the night her husband, James, left with a group of men to stop a lynching, while Elizabeth sat on the front porch all night with a shotgun in her lap.7 Her fierce protective

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road. In an interview, E. Pauline Myers explained that Randolph did not like female attention, especially if it appeared inappropriately sexual in intent. Myers suggested that her lifelong relationship with Randolph rested on a clear and early understanding that they would always be platonic friends. Such a relationship may also describe Randolph’s relationship with his “buddy” Lucille. Certainly Lucille was the only woman towards whom he displayed enduring affection.16 These women gave Randolph examples of the “womanist” potential of African American women.17 They were “ladies,” women whose behavior was always respectable and proper, but they did not embrace the feminine ideal of “helplessness,” wherein women were expected to depend on men for everything. Instead, they were resourceful, courageous, creative, vibrant women. Their form of maternal nurturance focused on survival, based on a realistic assessment of American society. If it sometimes seemed that women treated their children harshly, it was only because they were trying to teach young black people how to stay alive in a racist society that did not value black lives. As mothers, teachers, wives, and companions, women would assume an integral role in Randolph’s future work. Randolph learned to depend on women to make financial ends meet, to provide introductions to people who could assist him with his political work, and to push him to act on his beliefs while they defended the home front with a shotgun or their pocketbooks. As editor of the Messenger, Randolph encouraged contributors to discuss the role of women in the “New Negro” paradigm. His own editorials supported women’s suffrage and advocated access to birth control. The New Negro woman had responsibility equal to that of the male to fight “for the attainment of the stature of a full man, a free race, and a new world.” She was to accomplish this noble feat by encouraging her man to “break with the slave traditions of the past,” providing him support while pushing herself to do the same.18 These values contributed to the reputations of Randolph and Chandler Owen as dangerous radicals. As editors of the Messenger, the pair showed they were unafraid to challenge the status quo. They boldly spoke out against the United States’s entry into World War I while the rest of the black press viewed it as an opportunity for African American men to prove their loyalty. That position bordered on treason and nearly

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did not limit themselves to BSCP issues, but rather attacked economic injustice everywhere. In contrast, the new Ladies’ Auxiliaries ensured women’s activism would focus on the union and on designated domestic matters, their primary domain.21 The question has been raised as to what is the position of the Ladies’ Auxiliary. The answer is simple and clear. The Ladies’ Auxiliary is subordinate to the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood gave it birth. It is consequent to the Brotherhood. It is the Brotherhood’s assistant. It is its helpmeet. The Brotherhood in common parlance is the boss.22

In his address to the founding convention of the Auxiliary in 1938, Randolph adopted an explicitly maternalist rationale for women’s dependent position. “Women, by nature,” he claimed, were “primarily interested in the security and stability of living conditions” as a way to ensure their children’s safety. He tied that interest to economic stability. The best means to ensure “that the porter’s check can be made larger and more continuous” was through organization, seeking to improve the conditions under which the porter worked. Wives “should also want to know if the attitude of the Company insults the manhood of their husbands.”23 Inhumane working conditions and a racially hostile environment could lead to domestic violence. In such cases, a paycheck was not enough. For their part, many women seemed to accept this division of labor, at least in the early decades of Randolph’s leadership. Some were “grateful” for the opportunity to contribute in some small way to the union’s progress, indicating perhaps that they did not believe they possessed the skills or ability to do more than their bit. For Mary McLeod Bethune, the most visible Race Woman in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidential administration and founder of the National Council of Negro Women, it was “the wonderful wives, you are the ones after all who sacrificed. You couldn’t go to the fashionable dinners; you couldn’t wear all the nice dresses; you had to go without and many times felt that you didn’t know what to do next, but you stood by.” Yet there were women who chafed against these restrictions even in the earliest years. Lillian Hernstein, a white labor activist in Chicago, cautioned the Ladies Auxiliary convention in 1938. “Don’t let them fool you with the decorative

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prestigious title of “Executive Secretary,” the same title given executive directors of other civil rights organizations. But women remained subordinate to male leaders. As the “Dean” of the civil rights movement and as an officer in the house of labor, Randolph could have promoted women’s leadership, but he did not. In truth, he probably could not conceive of it. To Randolph and other African American leaders, promoting women’s leadership meant betraying the movement’s most fundamental demand: winning manhood rights for black men. It would not be respectable for a woman to lead a mass movement for first-class citizenship. The idea that movements are led by charismatic men obscures the work of organizers and other people who actually produce them. Long before the press discovers that hundreds or thousands are protesting, organizers have fanned out into communities to lay the groundwork. An organizer is someone who spends his or her days talking to people, educating them to analyze problems of justice, devising strategies to challenge those who hold power, and applying pressure tactics on power holders to create change in law and policy.24 Randolph was the consummate organizer, but male gender is not a bona fide occupational qualification for a successful organizer or movement leader.25 People without racial or class privilege, without educational attainment, without U.S. citizenship status have pursued brilliant organizing careers. Prejudice and social networks can, however, make it difficult for women and men of color to access necessary resources or even to enter the public places and private clubs where men with power congregate. During his career, Randolph often had to wrangle his way into the Harlem parties, the labor conventions, and the smoky cloakrooms where crucial political decisions were made. Women organizers faced similar access barriers, as well as the skepticism of donors and organizational leaders who did not see their efforts as “work” deserving of compensation, or their organizations as capable of administering funds properly. The few women who received salaries were paid less than men.26 To Randolph, such differences appeared natural rather than socially constructed. Manhood rights defined the “civil rights” movement for Randolph. Manhood rights would benefit both women and men, in the sense that “manhood,” like “man,” was considered a gender-neutral term. But in practice, “manhood” meant different things based on gender.

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the domestic equivalent of the union hall, and considered a marriage license a woman’s union card. For the women of the Brotherhood, manhood rights and a union contract offered the opportunity to quit their jobs without fear of eviction or starvation. At the First International Convention of the BSCP Ladies’ Auxiliary in 1938, Randolph “saluted” wives for defending their husbands, their homes, and the race “as the new Harriet Tubmans and Sojourner Truths fighting for the liberation of the Negro people . . . from economic bondage.”27 These women liked the vision of female domesticity, and while they may have envied the crystal stairs that white union wives enjoyed, they recognized homemaking as an economic responsibility and a political endeavor through which they would earn respectability.28 Respectability and domesticity were the distaff side of first-class citizenship. “No race can rise higher than its women,” African American clubwomen insisted at the turn of the century.29 For some African American women, such as Lucille Randolph, this “rise” meant winning “manhood” rights for themselves as professionals and independent businesswomen.30 To the BSCP Ladies’ Auxiliary president Halena Wilson, the “rise” was moral: female respectability was a key component of racial progress. Domesticity endowed union wives with the moral authority and economic power to advance the labor movement, especially in the black community. In the Brotherhood, racial progress was not measured by equality between men and women. Rather, it was measured by the equality of the races. When African American women were elevated to the pedestal on which white women stood, racial equality would be achieved. Black women’s advancement thus depended on securing the rights of men. For this reason it was only “natural” that Randolph included women in the movement while limiting their work to certain types of activities. This gendered division of labor ensured that women would be protected and earn the respect of the community. Racial equality thus hinged on gender. But while the meaning of manhood rights and equal citizenship has remained rather stable since at least the antebellum period, women’s roles have not. Over the fifty years that Randolph spent organizing for racial justice, ideas about what a black woman could be and do changed profoundly. In the Messenger, articles about women’s issues suggested new possibilities and potential.

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women’s Equal Pay Act of 1963.32 Randolph could not “see” similarities between racial discrimination and sex discrimination. Randolph’s “sexism” was not just a product of his time. It was enmeshed in African Americans’ understanding of racial progress, into the gendered meaning of blackness in the United States. Leaders of civil rights organizations and their hundreds of thousands of members understood this, and almost everyone saw it simply as the natural order of life. Randolph did not overtly challenge the gendered division of labor, but in praxis, he clearly rejected the view that women’s public activism posed a threat to manhood and respectability. By systemically including women in some capacity in the movements he led, he helped to undermine the restrictive tenets against women’s participation advocated by some African American male leaders.33 Thanks to Randolph, some women had full-time jobs in the movement. At least a dozen African American women who worked with him became leaders and powerful social justice advocates in their own right. Among them were Ella Baker, who became the genius behind the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Pauli Murray, who organized a mass protest against the execution of black sharecropper Odell Waller and later helped to found the National Organization of Women; Dorothy Height, the long-reigning president of the National Council of Negro Women; Anna Arnold Hedgeman, executive secretary of the Committee for a Permanent FEPC and later part of the cabinet of New York City mayor Robert Wagner; Layle Lane, the “legendary” leader of the United Federation of Teachers; E. Pauline Myers, the secretary of the March on Washington Movement; and Rosina Corrothers Tucker, secretary-treasurer of the International BSCP Ladies Auxiliary, who also became an advocate for impoverished African American youth in the District of Columbia. None of the mass movements that Randolph organized would have succeeded without the women who volunteered thousands of hours to make them happen. Though each cause and each movement was different, women tended to cover the same four areas of responsibility: raising funds and bookkeeping, reaching out to supporters, performing secretarial tasks, and making detailed, labor-intensive arrangements for mass meetings or small affairs in a time when all communications were conducted by letter, local calls, and telegram. Professional women and

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cabinet.” Future SNCC founder Ella Baker’s irritation with White’s style of leadership has also been well documented.36 For White, Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the few women who mattered, because the First Lady wielded political influence and national public opinion.37 He enlisted Mrs. Roosevelt to persuade members of Congress to support bills against lynching and poll taxes, while she arranged for White and Randolph to discuss racial matters with the president.38 But White’s relationship with the First Lady was a “Washington friendship” based on utility and influence. Mrs. Roosevelt could influence people, she could raise money, and she could arrange introductions and meetings, but she did not make policy. Mrs. Roosevelt and Bethune had the “power” of influence but no legal authority; their usefulness to White was limited. Civil rights leaders such as White could not accept African American women as their peers, an attitude shared by other (male) civil rights leaders throughout the twentieth century. As Randolph rose to national prominence, he too adopted this attitude, becoming increasingly reluctant to recognize or promote women’s leadership. In terms of realpolitik, it could be argued that White, Randolph, and other civil rights leaders did not so much ignore women as they recognized the necessity of working directly with the politicians and bureaucrats who actually made policy, and those people happened to be men. To be sure, women could be valuable to a movement, but their contributions were better suited to serving as influences, as half of the masses at demonstrations, in the pews, or in the electorate, and as the vast army of volunteers needed to produce the rallies and marches and to run campaign offices. Historically, such gendered divisions of labor have been common in organizing mass movements, creating a pattern that tends to reify the political interests of men as a class, rather than address issues of concern to women. In the NAACP as well as the BSCP, problems such as violence against women and restrictions on women’s employment opportunities were treated as intra-racial matters to be resolved within the African American community. Randolph, White, and other male leaders sometimes acted as though women would not need to worry about sexual violence or jobs once black men had won equal citizenship.39 They assumed women would follow them to the promised land.

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sleep, what facilities they might use, what they would do while they were in town—all was a logistical nightmare. Thousands of details had to be considered. The city and the federal government would have shut down for days. The logistical and public relations problems posed by the March on Washington Movement, and the failure of his black cabinet to stop the March, forced President Roosevelt to act, resulting in Executive Order 8802 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed, or national origin by national defense companies. The order also established the Fair Employment Practices Committee to investigate complaints and hold hearings on the nondiscrimination policy. The March did what an Oval Office meeting could not: it was a power play that demonstrated to Roosevelt how much power Randolph wielded and how far people were willing to go to make their anger known. Whether or not the preparations for the March were sufficient—and particularly if they were not—the infrastructure of the District of Columbia could not have accommodated even ten thousand extra people that June. Unlike an Oval Office meeting to discuss integration of the armed forces, the threatened March was a demonstration of nonviolent pressure politics, forcing the president to address Randolph’s demands. Randolph’s victory established his reputation as a formidable civil rights leader. Still spoiling for a showdown with the administration, March organizers decided to hold “monster rallies” in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and Washington to continue their pressure on the Administration.43 These rallies led to the March on Washington Movement (MOWM), a membership organization with annual dues of ten cents. The MOWM was all-black, and its office and local campaign activists were almost all women.44 Auxiliary members were not hired for the paid positions, but porters’ wives and relatives volunteered extensively, especially in Chicago. They posted flyers, stood on corners passing out leaflets, and collected coins for the rallies. Myers served as the MOWM executive secretary, demonstrating tremendous competency for the work. Biographer Paula Pfeffer observed that without her, the campaign would have fallen apart from its “gross inefficiency,” the absence of “central planning,” and its “undemocratic” structure.45

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officials, the MOWM had “too many women mixed up in this thing,” and they undermined the potential of the movement. BSCP vice president Milton P. Webster, observing the workings of the Chicago MOWM office, wrote to Randolph, “I don’t intend for these women to be pushing us around, because I know, and they ought to have sense enough to know, that if it was not for the Brotherhood there would not be any March on Washington Movement.”49 To him, the MOWM was “the biggest piece of bunk that has happened around here . . . [because there were] too many bossy dames.” The “bossy dames” were young activist women who did most of the groundwork in organizing the Chicago rally, including Neva Ryan, Georgia Eason, and Ethel Payne. Ryan, founder and president of the Domestic Workers Association, thought the BSCP men quickly dismissed women’s complaints by stereotyping them as “difficult.”50 Ryan observed, “Because women have done most of the complaining perhaps the mistake was made in emphasizing personality difficulties. The deeper and more significant things were not touched on.”51 The women’s leadership, Webster wrote, was interfering with his work with the Reverend Charles Wesley Burton, one of the BSCP’s earliest (male) allies in Chicago, who served as regional director of the movement.52 Burton was supposed to approve everything the women did—when they could call a meeting, what arrangements they could make for meeting space, how they should organize the MOWM office, and their writing, printing, and distribution of movement literature. Payne and Ryan got along well enough with Burton, a busy attorney who “deliberates a long time and then sometimes forgets” to make a decision. They did not object to close supervision exactly, but rather to an arrangement that required them to wait for permission before they could move forward on an already agreed upon plan. Trying to negotiate a peace agreement, Randolph convinced the women they should not “override Burton’s decisions or disregard his authority” after he instructed Webster to organize a vote to “democratically” elect Burton as chairman.53 The resolution sat poorly with the women, who continued to feel acutely the limits of their power and influence. Two decades later, Payne would publicly chide Randolph for failing to invite any woman to speak at the 1963 March.

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gender-based conflicts experienced in the Chicago MOWM office. Nonetheless, Randolph delegated an increasing amount of work to Hedgeman without giving her executive authority. By January 1946, she wrote to Randolph that she could not handle all of the legislative, educational, administrative, and fundraising duties for the organization. She was deeply concerned about the council’s financial footing, even though she had managed to find volunteer clerks from the Women’s Army Corps to help staff the office. Randolph’s actions to reorganize the council after receiving Hedgeman’s letter expose the widespread disregard for female workers after World War II. The council, like most charitable and political groups, suffered financially from “donor fatigue” as laid-off workers could no longer afford to contribute.58 For the first time in his career, Randolph took primary responsibility for fundraising, a task he had previously left to women. He failed miserably, forcing Hedgeman to threaten her resignation and terminate the entire Washington staff. Instead of accepting their resignations gracefully, Randolph and the council’s executive committee decided they could not do their jobs. They replaced Hedgeman and her white female assistant, Sidney Wilkerson, with two men, Elmer Henderson as executive director and Paul Sifton as assistant executive director at higher annual salaries (and job titles) than any of the women. Hedgeman, Wilkerson, Douglas, and Leuchtenburg resigned.59 Wilkerson was incensed by the executive committee’s actions. She released a protest letter to the press, questioning its actions. To you, who have spoken human rights, it must be obvious that those rights have been violated by the summary dismissal of the staff . . . without even a formal statement of appreciation for services rendered over a period of two and a half years. It has been my conviction that in order to promote fair employment, it must be practiced, and I do not think you . . . have complied.60

Neither did the executive committee attempt to pay the women the back wages they were owed. Hedgeman waited patiently until May 1947, but “no indication has been made as to whether this money will ever be forthcoming.” Hiring two men, “both at better salaries than any of

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“affirmative steps to see that the doors are really open for training, selection, advancement, and equal pay.” Assistant secretary of labor Esther Peterson, a former AFL-CIO lobbyist, consumer advocate, and long-time supporter of the BSCP and the Ladies’ Auxiliary, orchestrated passage of a comparable pay law for women; on June 10, 1963, Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, requiring employers and trade unions to pay equal wages for equal work regardless of sex.63 Equal pay legislation had been a controversial matter for years. Although Randolph had spent his entire career in the labor movement working to abolish racial job classifications and with it, the end of separate pay scales for white and African American workers, he opposed equal pay for women. Along with other (male) union leaders, he believed that men’s wages could be adversely affected, but the 1963 act specifically prohibited employers from lowering wages. This provision resolved most of the opposition from the AFL–CIO, especially since companies and union contracts could continue to segregate jobs by sex as well as by race. This was the case at least for a very short year, until summer events in the civil rights movement led to stronger federal laws against discrimination in employment, education, federally funded programs, and public accommodations. On June 11, the very day after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, police in Birmingham, Alabama, attacked African American children with dogs and high-pressure fire hoses. The attack forced President Kennedy to make an emergency nationally televised address announcing his intention to send a civil rights bill to Congress. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by Martin Luther King, called for “massive, militant, monumental sit-ins on Congress,” followed by “massive acts of civil disobedience all over this nation. We will tie up public transportation by laying our bodies prostrate on runways of airports, across railroad tracks, and in bus depots.”64 Later that same night in Jackson, Mississippi, Medgar Evers, the state NAACP leader, was assassinated by Byron de la Beckwith. The SCLC’s call to action latched onto a new March on Washington that Randolph and Rustin had been planning since December 1962 to mark the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation. An uneasy coalition of the “Big Six” civil rights groups had less than eight weeks to bring one hundred thousand people, or two thousand full buses, to

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“Big Six,” his group had done almost nothing for the southern Freedom movement. Yet Height and NCNW members had initiated several programs and funded others, including ten educational and recreational centers for African American children in Prince Edward County, Virginia, where all the public schools had been shut in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court ruling.69 Pauli Murray, another of Randolph’s protégés who had participated in the formation of the National Council for a Permanent FEPC and by 1963 was a law professor at Yale, saw it as another case of “Jane Crow.” It was “bitterly humiliating for Negro women  .  .  . to see themselves accorded little more than token recognition in the historic March on Washington. . . . This omission was deliberate.” She castigated Randolph for addressing the National Press Club—an organization that excluded female journalists—in the days leading up to the March. “Mr. Randolph apparently saw no relationship between being sent to the balcony and being sent to the back of the bus . . . he failed to see that he was supporting the violation of the very principle for which he was fighting: that human rights are indivisible.”70 To witness Randolph acting like a member of “an entrenched power group”71 was a harsh reminder of women’s inequality. For Height, Randolph’s antipathy proved to be “an immovable force . . . nothing that women said or did broke the impasse blocking their participation.”72 To rectify the exclusion of women, Hedgeman suggested that the organizing committee invite Mrs. Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers, to speak at the march.73 Randolph did what Hedgeman must have suspected he would do: ignored her memo until she sent copies out to the “Big Six” leaders and raised $14,000 for the March. At that point, Randolph agreed to squeeze in a female speaker to conduct a “Tribute to Women” and introduce the female platform guests.74 That tribute, which would begin with praise of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, sounded suspiciously similar to Randolph’s address to the BSCP Ladies’ Auxiliary a quarter of a century earlier. Evers, however, could not attend the March, and it was Mrs. Daisy Bates of Little Rock, Arkansas, who gave the 142-word tribute written by someone else, calling out Mrs. Rosa Parks of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Diane Nash, leader of the Nashville sit-in demonstrations, Gloria Richardson, leader of the Cambridge, Maryland, Non-Violent

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activists, would discover that advances against sex discrimination could be more easily achieved when they allied white women. Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with its Title VII prohibition against both race and sex discrimination in employment, was engineered by the intense lobbying of Murray and sympathetic white northerners, women and men. Strategic interracial alliances were one means to garner the power needed to force the hands of reluctant leaders. More often, however, African American women have not had the “masses” at their command. Without that power, women have had difficulty playing pressure politics with male-dominated civil rights organizations. Leaders may claim they have “binders full of women,” but when black women rally against sexism and call for the appointment of women to policymaking and administrative positions, they are criticized for being unnecessarily divisive. African American men continue to lead civil rights organizations even in the twenty-first century. The glass ceiling remains in place. Notes

1. The author wishes to thank Anthony Prachter for his research assistance in pre-

paring this essay.

2. Carol Gilligan, “Hearing the Difference: Theorizing Connection,” Hypatia 10, no.

2 (Spring 1995): 120–27; Sally J. Kenney, “Where Is Gender in Agenda Setting?” Women & Politics 25 (2003):1–2, 179–207; Suzanne Staggenborg, “Beyond Culture versus Politics: A Case Study of a Local Women’s Movement,” Gender and Society 15 (August 2001) 4: 507–30; Verta Taylor, “Feminist Methodology in Social Movements Research,” Qualitative Sociology 21, no. 4 (1998): 357–79; Belinda Robnett, How Long? How Long? African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Bernice McNair Barnett, “Invisible Southern Black Women Leaders in the Civil Rights Movement: The Triple Constraints of Gender, Race, and Class,” Gender & Society 1 (1993): 162–82; Leila Rupp and Verta Taylor, The Survival in the Doldrums: American Women’s Rights Movement, 1945 to 1960 (New York: Oxford University Press 1987); Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical DemocraticVvision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Kathleen M. Blee, No Middle Ground: Women and Radical Protest (New York: New York University Press 1998); and Aldon D. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (New York: Free Press, 1984). 3. See Kimberly Springer, Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968–1980 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).

190  191 24. See Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Lib-

eration in America (New York: Vintage, 1967); and Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (New York: Vintage, 1989). 25. William H. Harris, “A. Philip Randolph as a Charismatic Leader, 1925–1941,” Journal of Negro History 64, no. 4 (Autumn 1979): 301–15; and Mary Frances Berry, My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Ex-Slave Reparations Movement (New York: Vintage, 2006). 26. Beth Thomkins Bates suggests that Randolph hired women because they were cheaper than men—an observation that begs the question: Why did a civil rights and trade union leader, who advocated tirelessly against employment discrimination based on race, not recognize discrimination based on gender? Beth Thomkins Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925–1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001). The gender gap in salaries for nonprofit employees remains despite the ever-increasing number of female executive directors; see Ben Gose, “Gender Gap in Nonprofit Salaries Persists, Study Finds,” Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 27, 2010, 27. A. Philip Randolph, “Report of the Proceedings of the First National Convention of the International Ladies’ Auxiliary,” 12. 28. Ibid. 29. The original phrase can be found in Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892; repr. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). See also Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894–1994 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999). 30. To be sure, there have always been African American women who wanted these rights for themselves. See Teresa C. Zackodnik, Press, Platform, Pulpit: Black Feminist Publics in the Era of Reform (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2011); Shirley J. Yee, Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828–1860 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993); Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996); Anna J. Cooper, A Voice from the South (1892; repr. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); E. Frances White, Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001); and Carla L. Peterson, “‘And We Claim Our Rights’: The Rights Rhetoric of Black and White Women Activists before the Civil War,” in Sister Circle: Black Women and Work, ed. Sharon Harley (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002). 31. Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991): 1241–99. 32. The exceptions are convention resolutions passed every meeting that called for the equalization of teachers’ salaries. These resolutions supported the litigation pursued by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) challenging the nearly universal practice of paying African American

192  193 88, 101. See also A. Philip Randolph, “Keynote Address to the Policy Conference of the March on Washington Movement,” Survey Graphic 31 (November 1942): 488–89. 48. Milton P. Webster to A. Philip Randolph, August 29, 1942, and letter Milton P. Webster to A. Philip Randolph, August 25, 1942, in Papers of Asa Philip Randolph, Library of Congress, box 9 (hereinafter cited as APR Papers). 49. Anderson, Randolph, 267. 50. Chateauvert, Marching Together, 168 51. Neva Ryan to A. Philip Randolph, n.d., APR Papers, box 25. 52. Clarence Taylor, Black Religious Intellectuals: The Fight for Equality from Jim Crow to the 21st Century (New York: Routledge, 2002), 21. 53. Taylor, Randolph, 140; A. Philip Randolph to Charles Wesley Burton, September 9, 1942, APR Papers, box 26. 54. Neva Ryan to A. Philip Randolph, n.d., APR Papers, box 24. 55. Ibid. 56. Benjamin McLaurin to A. Philip Randolph, November 14, 1942, APR Papers, box 7 57. William E. Leuchtenburg, “The Historian and the Public Realm,” American Historical Review 97 (1992): 5. 58. See for example, H. P. Carter and Robert L. Neal to Randolph, June 13, 1945, APR Papers, box 18; C. Herbert Marshall to Randolph, June 27, 1946, APR Papers, box 19. 59. Job titles for Henderson and Sifton as printed on letterhead for MOWM, APR Papers, box 19. Pfeffer, Randolph, 109, incorrectly identifies Henderson as executive secretary. He was, in fact, executive director. Louis C. Kesselman, Social Politics of FEPC: A Study in Reform Pressure Movements (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1948), 82–83, gives Hedgeman’s 1945 salary as $5,000. In a letter from Anna Hedgeman to Allan Knight Chalmers, May 19, 1947, Hedgeman wrote that she was to receive $5,600. Randolph earned $3,600 as International BSCP president that same year. See also Anderson, Randolph, 268. 60. Pfeffer, Randolph, 90–116. 61. Anna Arnold Hedgeman to Allan Knight Chalmers, March 19, 1947, APR Papers, box 19. 62. Ibid. See also Anna Arnold Hedgeman, The Gift of Chaos: Decades of Discontent (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 56. 63. Albert H. Ross and Frank V. McDermott, Jr., “The Equal Pay Act of 1963: A Decade of Enforcement,” Boston College Law Review 16, no. 1 (1974): 5; Cynthia Harrison, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women’s Issues, 1945–1968 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 80–107. 64. “Capital Bitter and Angry of Over Evers’ Assassination,” Jet, June 27, 1963, 7 65. Dorothy I. Height, Open Wide the Freedom Gates (New York: Public Affairs, 2003), 145–46. 66. Ibid. 67. See also Introduction, “How Did the March on Washington Movement’s Critique of American Democracy in the 1940s Awaken African American Women to the

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Organizers like T. D. McNeal in St. Louis and Anna Arnold Hedgeman in New York provided the MOWM with the political momentum that allowed it to have a brief tenure at the forefront of black activism during World War II. While local branches of the MOWM established themselves and began to lobby for civil rights, Randolph kept the threat of a march alive as a way to encourage the FEPC to enforce compliance with the executive order and to prove “to white America that black America is on the march and means business.”10 New York MOWM member Eardlie John was one of many who still wanted the march to occur. Hopeful that his organization would eventually follow through on the threat to march on the capital, John wrote to Randolph raising hypothetical questions and presenting solutions to logistical issues associated with staging a mass rally in a segregated city. John pointed out that problems could be expected in transportation, lodging, food services, and basic sanitation. He raised concerns about complications that could inhibit a massive demonstration by a minority group under racial segregation during a period of national crisis, as well as about restricted opportunities for travel. Could African Americans expect white proprietors to allow them use of sanitary facilities? Should African American residents be expected to open their homes to strangers who could not find their own lodging in the limited and already overbooked hotels that accepted black patronage? John went so far as to calculate that the already crowded rails could handle only twenty thousand additional passengers over a three-day period, a number far too small for the MOWM to save face when it called for one hundred thousand demonstrators. These problems aside, Eardlie John’s “absolute faith in the rank and file” and vehement disdain for racial inequality led him to all but demand that an actual march be staged. In John’s words, failure to sponsor the event for which the MOWM named itself would cause the organization to be seen as another bunch of “docile, begging, cringing, handkerchief-head uncle Toms of yesterday,” unworthy of emotional or financial commitment from African Americans.11 The march that John and others wanted so badly did not happen in the 1940s. Still, this famous nonevent remains an important touchstone in twentieth-century African American history. As an organization, the March on Washington Movement was about more than just

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in any honorable human endeavor, Randolph’s national stature confirmed the credibility of their community-based initiatives. Likewise, their activism under the MOWM’s banner enhanced Randolph’s clout and made real the possibility that the march could happen. This essay illuminates the ways in which a few grassroots activists in the MOWM interacted with Randolph, paying particular attention to ways that local branches used the organization’s framework of “marching” to agitate for change in their respective communities. This perspective shifts attention from Randolph and his goals for the March on Washington Movement to the local level. Seeing the matter in this way, one gains an appreciation for how grassroots activists interacted with the national organizations with which they were affiliated. In the MOWM’s case, regionally pressing issues attracted much more enthusiasm from the community than did campaigns centered on important but distant national affairs. The MOWM’s organizational life span was brief, but in that time its trajectory passed through three phases. At its inception, the MOWM catalyzed grassroots support and capitalized on Randolph’s connections with the African American press. This led to the issuance of Executive Order 8802, the establishment of the Fair Employment Practice Committee, and the cancellation of the march. Randolph’s pronouncements in African American media outlets and the concessions he wrested from the federal government are traditionally seen as the MOWM’s apex. However, as Randolph’s long-time political partner Bayard Rustin pointed out, “once the FEPC order was issued . . . the real activity began.”15 In other words, the MOWM was much more than the march that did not happen. In its second phase, working-class African Americans used the MOWM’s platform to agitate in their communities. Local chapters aided the work of the FEPC by collecting complaints of bias and demonstrating at discriminatory job sites, thus calling federal attention to recalcitrant employers. Randolph tried to build upon the energies of the local branches to change the national situation. Periodically, he threatened to revitalize the call for an assembly in the capital, but he failed to make the MOWM a sustainable national organization. With the war slowly coming to an end, the MOWM’s activists had to identify alternative channels for their attack on the system popularly known as Jim Crow. The MOWM’s third phase is characterized by its local and national redirection and dissolution. Instead of fighting for jobs in the

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civilization. Then look at the world and fear not a man.”19 In addition to being the MOWM’s figurehead, Randolph was occupied with running his monthly magazine, the Black Worker, maintaining his duties with the BSCP, and keeping up with a typically busy speaking schedule. This left E. Pauline Myers, formerly of the Richmond YMCA, to run the MOWM’s headquarters as the organization’s only paid full-time staff member.20 Layle Lane, a New York City–based teacher and chair of the MOWM’s Education Committee, was Randolph’s first choice for this position. Randolph all but begged this forgotten heroine of the struggle for civil rights to work full time for MOWM: “I wish you would serve as secretary  .  .  . nobody will do the job as well as you will  .  .  . forget what was said in the meeting about your war position. No one has done more for MOWM than you have.”21 Satisfied with her work as vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, Lane declined this offer on grounds that her commitment to pacifism was incongruent with the MOWM’s unwavering support for the war.22 Aspiring to be like other major civil rights organizations, the MOWM valued grassroots activism and promoted it at the national level through Myers’s efforts as secretary. She coordinated the MOWM’s affairs on a piecemeal budget comprised of donations and loans from organizations like the NAACP, the BSCP, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), as well as small contributions from private supporters and door receipts from dances and teas.23 Revenue streams were irregular, unreliable, and dependent on the good will of others. FOR, for example, paid Myers’s traveling expenses when she spoke alongside Bayard Rustin at several events in the Midwest during 1943.24 Because the MOWM had so few paid staff members, Myers was vital to its daily operations. She authored and distributed organizational literature, maintained correspondence with MOWM chapters throughout the nation, and pulled together major national MOWM conventions. During Myers’s time in this position, the MOWM crystalized an ideology centering on an allblack membership policy and a campaign of nonviolent goodwill direct action aimed at overthrowing racial segregation.25 Anna Arnold Hedgeman was among the most prominent of the cadre of local activists who formed the lifeblood of the MOWM’s grassroots support in New York City. She led a group of “ardent workers” consisting of nine women and four men who planned and coordinated

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the MOWM’s operations to such an extent that its bare-bones staff could not compensate.31 In frustration, Eugenie Settles wrote to Randolph, “I am almost convinced that you do not realize that if you had an effectively operated office, your work would be simplified and could be completed in a much shorter space of time.”32 From the beginning of her employment with the MOWM in December 1942, Myers openly discussed being “swamped with work,” while she looked for and established a suitable national office, planned and facilitated mass meetings, lobbied for fair employment enforcement, raised funds, and helped coordinate the local MOWM branch.33 The extent to which the operations of the MOWM’s national office and its New York City branch were intertwined is illustrated by the 1942 demonstration organized by Pauli Murray. At Randolph’s behest, the New York MOWM responded to the execution of Odell Waller, a Virginia sharecropper convicted of murder, with a silent parade that connected his plight to the twin evils of poll taxes and systematic racial violence.34 Randolph appointed Murray, who was on the payroll of the Worker’s Defense League, to oversee the demonstration.35 Shortly after, and against Murray’s advice, Randolph left town for Los Angeles to attend that year’s NAACP convention and receive the Spingarn Award. Randolph’s insistence on holding the MOWM’s first major event in New York City since the Madison Square Garden rally at a time when he was away set the organization up for an embarrassment. Getting anyone interested in the silent parade meant that Murray had to give countless street-corner speeches and tap a network of female African American activists associated with the YWCA.36 This band of sisters included social studies teacher and union leader Layle Lane, National Association of Colored Women member and director of the Brooklyn Young Women’s Christian Association Anna Arnold Hedgeman, International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union organizer Maida Springer, and a soonto-be-published novelist by the name of Ann Petry.37 With Randolph absent, local MOWM stalwarts Anna Hedgeman and Lawrence Ervin were the lead orators. Both were capable speakers and respected members of the community, but neither was a national figure capable of generating an audience or commanding publicity like Randolph. Without the expected headliner, African American newspapers gave the event scant coverage, and the crowd was smaller than hoped for.

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department store lunch counters. The St. Louis MOWM’s pickets and protests “spread like a fire” through the Gateway City’s black community, and a three-year campaign of agitation attracted upwards of four thousand members.44 Long-time St. Louis resident T. D. McNeal was involved in the MOWM since its inception. A. Philip Randolph hatched the idea for a march on Washington while on an organizing trip for the BSCP, but it was McNeal who stayed behind “to work up negroes to come to Washington.”45 By the time McNeal became involved with the MOWM, he had already spent more than two decades leading the BSCP and working with the local NAACP in fundraising and membership drives. Activities like these earned McNeal the trust of various constituencies in the St. Louis African American community, which he in turn parlayed into power when coordinating the MOWM’s local campaigns. McNeal’s experience as a labor organizer prepared him to efficiently manage St. Louis MOWM’s unusually engaged membership base. He ensured that everyone had reasonable and identifiable goals because they volunteered for a specific job under a variety of committees including the Speaker’s Bureau, Publicity Committee, and Complaints Committee.46 By regimenting organizational tasks and focusing the energy of its members, McNeal helped the St. Louis MOWM operate with impressive efficiency. McNeal was focused on creating local reforms, but he saw the MOWM’s activism as a component of an international and multifaceted struggle against racial segregation and inequality. In his capacity as secretary of MOWM’s Resolutions Committee at the 1942 Policy Conference in Detroit, McNeal contributed to crafting the fledgling organization’s position on everything from desegregating the armed services to India’s “desperate struggle to achieve independence and freedom now from British Imperialism.”47 McNeal’s awareness of the international dimension to the MOWM’s activism was part of a growing current in African American thought that was gaining traction in the early 1940s through individuals like Paul Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois.48 The United States was involved in yet another world war, and McNeal saw the MOWM in St. Louis as one battalion in a theater of global struggle that sought to eradicate the great problem that Du Bois dubbed “the color line.”49

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In McNeal’s words, the St. Louis MOWM fought “to secure complete integration of Negro workers in war industries.”58 This was accomplished by cooperating with preexisting protest organizations, most notably the NAACP, but also with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and, to a lesser extent, the more business-oriented St. Louis Urban League. This kind of collaboration was the local manifestation of what Randolph and his national MOWM staff hoped, but failed, to replicate. At least in St. Louis, cross-membership and organizational cooperation did not deleteriously affect or undercut any of the civic, trade, and women’s organizations and fraternal groups with which the MOWM worked. In fact, none of the MOWM’s members distanced themselves from previous organizational affiliations. Instead of drawing members away from established organizations, the St. Louis MOWM added to the city’s African American institutional fabric. In this instance, the MOWM presented an opportunity for its most committed members to refine their leadership skills, and there is no evidence that the St. Louis MOWM caused a decline in the membership base of any preexisting groups. Unlike the national leaders of civil rights organizations, who were concerned with membership revenue and newspaper space, ordinary people at the grassroots level did not have difficulty working together across organizational boundaries.59 The MOWM’s constitution demanded that the “locals or branches shall pattern their organization after the National Organization.” The Federal Bureau of Investigations noticed a breach from this order, and the agency reported that that the St. Louis MOWM “followed the policies laid down by the national organization but it has stressed considerably the obtaining of additional jobs for Negroes and advocating nonsegregation.”60 Randolph wanted local branches to emphasize fair employment, carry the banner in causes célèbres such as the Odell Waller case, advocate for military desegregation, sloganeer about a Free Africa and Caribbean, and transform African Americans into a national nonpartisan voting bloc. Although the St. Louis branch did some of that, local MOWM leaders focused on “marching” outside local utility companies and defense contractors, and conducting sit-ins at department store lunch counters. The tendency of the MOWM’s local activists to act autonomously and independently is not indicative of disdain for

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“ministers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, housewives, laborers and labor union representatives” maintained an orderly decorum while carrying eighteen different MOWM-authorized placards.66 Strongly influenced by “Double V” rhetoric, their messages equated racial discrimination with fascism. A sampling of the St. Louis MOWM’s slogans includes: “How can we DIE FREELY for democracy abroad if we can’t WORK EQUALLY for democracy at home?”; “Selective service for Negroes— U.S. Army—Front Line!—U.S. Cartridge—Rear Line!”; “Winning Democracy for the Negro is Winning the War for Democracy”; and “Why Make Propaganda for Nazi Goebels?”67 In the demonstration’s aftermath, all of U.S. Cartridge’s porters received a ten-cent per hour raise, the first of its kind in company history.68 Less than a week later, seventy-two African American women joined the more than eight thousand women already employed there.69 Local attorney and MOWM member David Grant “worked hand in glove with management” for further progress to secure jobs.70 In less than a year, this blend of protest and a pragmatic need to utilize existing labor pools contributed to a six-fold increase of African American workers, their numbers rising to nearly two thousand. The MOWM’s organizational literature boasted of this improvement: “Brother, that is money you can count!”71 By 1944, U.S. Cartridge management and St. Louis MOWM leadership hashed out the “St. Louis Plan” as a way to promote African American workers without instigating hostility from the company’s white employees. Unit 202 was officially designated as an all-black production unit, complete with more than five thousand workers and its own floor management, all of whom labored and lunched in segregated but respectable facilities. Grant saw this arrangement as a compromise “at which we were not over happy,” but he recognized that this form of segregation represented a pragmatic solution to the problem of securing greater economic opportunities inside a company where pervasive white supremacy united many employees and managers. After eight months, Unit 202’s workers proved themselves equivalent to the Tuskegee Airmen, outpacing the rest of U.S. Cartridge’s employees in all relevant measures of production. Company statistics indicate that Unit 202’s absenteeism rate was 20 percent lower than the rest of its workforce. Workers in Unit 202 not only showed up more often than their

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number of jobs would be created to staff the front desk and “receive payment of bills, handle moves and orders for telephone service and perform certain accounting functions.”77 As in New York City, women were vital to the St. Lous MOWM’s local operations. Sallie Parham and Nita Blackwell made “especially valuable” contributions such as speaking at rallies and facilitating weekly meetings, but women’s leadership in the organization did not flourish until a series of sit-ins at department store lunch counters in summer 1944.78 By then, a new cohort of female activists rose to the forefront. There was space for this wave of women leaders because by 1943, Parham retreated from public life and Blackwell relocated to Los Angeles for a wartime job with the United Service Organizations (USO).79 Pearl S. Maddox, a longtime NAACP member, stepped in and thrived as the principle strategist behind the sit-ins. As a property-owning widow boldly confronting racial segregation, Maddox thought that visible leadership unnecessarily exposed her to property damage and having her mortgage recalled. Maddox shied away from being in the headlines in order to protect herself from retribution, and she sought out McNeal to act as the public face of the sit-ins. In many ways, he was an ideal candidate. McNeal was versed in organizing, savvy with local African American newspapers, and most importantly, his employment with the BSCP insulated him from economic reprisals. Although McNeal was the MOWM’s public face, he acknowledged that “the women were still calling the shots . . . These women really did the work.”80 St. Louis’s first wartime sit-in took place on May 15, 1944, at the Stix, Baer and Fuller department store. Strategists chose this location “because that store was more friendly toward colored people” and, as such, “enjoyed” sizeable patronage from St. Louis’s African American shoppers who could, if necessary, be organized into a boycott. Pearl Maddox and Birdie Beal Anderson arrived flanked by a “valiant” group of “three young American pretty brown college girls” who had ties to the MOWM: Vora Thompson, Shermine Smith, and Ruth Mattie Wheeler. At around seven o’clock that evening, they defiantly occupied a small corner of the food counter and calmly placed an order without “fear” or “excitement.” The women remained stoic and poised while the dumbfounded waitress “stammered  .  .  . incoherently.” Thompson went into a private conference with the store manager, a Mr. Hyatt,

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opportunity, and racial equality appealed to them. In St. Louis, workingclass African Americans organized themselves and made the MOWM an organization that addressed issues beyond the scope of those that Randolph articulated in his national pronouncements. “No organization can do everything,” Randolph said at the MOWM’s 1942 policy conference in Detroit, but “every organization can do something.”88 At its best, Randolph hoped the MOWM could be an umbrella organization through which the “Double V” campaign could be more efficiently coordinated at the grassroots level. It was here, Randolph thought, that working-class people had the best opportunity to act on their own behalf and advance reforms that would alleviate racial inequalities.89 The MOWM’s experience in St. Louis indicated that working with loose coalitions of activists toward a common goal was easier at the local level than the national. This was because grassroots organizers like David Grant were less concerned about organizational boundaries and institutional livelihood than national figures like NAACP leader Roy Wilkins. Likewise, the MOWM’s operations in New York City illustrate the vital and unheralded contributions that women made in wartime struggles for civil rights. At the same time, the MOWM’s shortcomings in that city underscore the difficulties that new organizations experience when they attempt to make inroads in places that already have a well-established leadership of preexisting organizations. In the seven decades that Randolph’s public life spanned, the MOWM arguably represented the zenith of his influence. By the 1940s, Randolph was a more mature thinker than the young man who coedited the Messenger with Chandler Owen. Randolph’s work with the BSCP schooled him in techniques of labor activism and impressed upon him the importance of securing economic opportunity for African American workers. Through the MOWM, Randolph’s sphere of power increased far beyond its previous capacity as Black America’s labor leader at large to become, for a brief period, the leading voice of African American protest. The threat to march on Washington gave Randolph, for the first time in his career, access (albeit limited) to the upper echelons of America’s power structure.90 Still, if evaluated by its own 8-Point Program, the MOWM was largely unsuccessful.91 A march was never staged in the capital, and Randolph

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of its core members moved on to other campaigns waged through different organizations. Hedgeman worked for the National Council for a Permanent FEPC, and Myers found a job alongside J. Finley Wilson of the Elks. For Bayard Rustin and Pauli Murray, participating in the MOWM was a springboard to a lifetime of activism in support of progressive causes. McNeal continued his affiliation with the BSCP, and he briefly led the St. Louis NAACP before becoming the first African American elected to serve in the Missouri Senate. Nearly two decades after his work with the MOWM, one of the first things that McNeal accomplished in office was leading the passage of Missouri’s 1961 Fair Employment Practices Act.95 The MOWM’s rise gave its members a place to develop and use their talents as organizers, and its local chapters provided an institutional platform for previously unrecognized grassroots activists to come to the fore as leaders. Randolph’s vision for a march on Washington inspired them. Particularly at the local level, his building of an organization that encouraged their participation affected the trajectory of their lives and influenced the path of the long struggle to repeal Jim Crow. Notes

1. The initial call to protest in early 1941 appealed for only 10,000 marchers, but

Randolph steadily increased the number until it reached 100,000. See A. Philip Randolph to Walter White, March 18, 1941; “Plan to Mobilize 10,000 Negroes to March on Washington, D.C.” n.d., reel 23, Papers of the NAACP, part 13; Pittsburgh Courier, January 15, 1941; Chicago Defender, June 28, 1941. For assessments of this numerical increase see Benjamin Quarles, “A. Philip Randolph: Labor Leader at Large,” in Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, ed. John Hope Franklin and August Meier (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 155; Philip S. Foner, Organized Labor and the Black Worker, 1619–1973 (New York: International Publishers, 1974), 240; and Lucy G. Barber, Marching on Washington: The Forging of an American Political Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 121. 2. Patricia Sullivan, Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: The New Press, 2009), 254. 3. “Executive Order 8802,” Federal Register 6, no. 125 (June 27, 1941): 4544. 4. “Proposals of the Negro March-on-Washington Committee to President Roosevelt for Urgent Consideration,” May 1941, , Papers of A. Philip Randolph (hereinafter cited as APR Papers), reel 22; and Black Worker (July 1941): 4. 5. St. Louis Argus, June 27, 1941. 6. “Keynote Address to the Policy Conference of the March on Washington Movement, Detroit, Michigan, September 26, 1942,” March on Washington Movement,

216  217 George Schuyler, “Views and Reviews,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 1, 1942. For rebuttals see “To the Editors of the Pittsburgh Courier— Reply to George Schuyler by Benjamin McLaurin,” n.d.,APR Papers, reel 20; and Pauli Murray to George Schuyler, July 31, 1942, APR Papers, reel 22, part 13. 14. Albert Parker, “The March on Washington: One Year After,” pamphlet (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1942), 4; and Cornelius L. Bynum, A. Philip Randolph and the Struggle for Civil Rights (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 165. 15. “Interview with Bayard Rustin,” March 28, 1974, folder, box 58, August Meier Papers, New York Public Library (hereafter cited as NYPL); and see Bayard Rustin, “The Negro and Nonviolence,” in Fellowship: The Journal of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (October 1942), repr. in Down the Line: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin, ed. C. Vann Woodward (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971), 8–12. 16. Negro-March-on-Washington-Committee Bulletin, May 22, 1941, reel 21, A. Philip Randolph Papers; Ralph Ellison, “The Way It Is,” New Masses, October 20, 1942, repr, in The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, ed. John Callahan (New York: Modern Library, 2003), 310–319, gives an eyewitness account of wartime morale in Harlem. 17. “The March,” vol. 1, no. 1, October 17, 1942, March on Washington Movement, 1941–1945, FSN Sc 002, 968-3, SCCF. 18. “The March Community Bookshop, 2086 Seventh Avenue (Hotel Theresa),” n.d., catalog, March on Washington Movement, 1941–1945, FSN Sc 002, 968-5, SCCF.. 19. “Book List—March on Washington Bookstore,” n.d., March on Washington Movement, 1941–1945, FSN Sc 002, 968-5, SCCF. 20. Benjamin McLaurin, Aldrich Turner, Lawrence Ervin, and Layle Lane to A. Philip Randolph, November 10, 1943, APR Papers, reel 20; and E. Pauline Myers, “The March on Washington Movement Mobilizes a Gigantic Crusade for Freedom,” pamphlet published by the March on Washington Movement, 1943, March on Washington Movement, 1941–1945, FSN Sc 002, 968-5, SCCF. 21. A. Philip Randolph to Layle Lane, September 24, 1943, APR Papers, reel 20. 22. Layle Lane, “The Negro and the War,” speech, folder: Printed Material, 1942, 1944, n.d., box 1, Layle Lane Papers; Jack Schierenbeck, “Lost and Found: The Incredible Life and Times of (Miss) Layle Lane,” American Educator 24, no. 4 (Winter 2000–2001): 4–19; and Daily Intelligencer, February 1, 1979, box 1, folder: Printer Material, 1942, 1944, n.d., Layle Lane Papers. Also see Ellen Swartz, “Stepping Outside the Master Script: Re-Connecting the History of American Education,” Journal of Negro Education, 76, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 179. 23. “Estimate for a National Budget,” n.d.; A. Philip Randolph to Walter White, June 2, 1941; A. Philip Randolph to Walter White, May 6, 1941; A. Philip Randolph to Walter White, April 10, 1942; “Contributions to the Negro March-on-Washington Committee,” and “Financial Report,” 1941, reel 23, part 13, Papers of the NAACP; and “Dance—Fight for Freedom—Dance,” handbill and ticket stub, April 21, 1944, March on Washington Movement, 1941–1945, FSN Sc 002, 968-4, SCCF.

218  219 36. Eugenie Settles to A. Philip Randolph, July 17, 1942, APR Papers, reel 7; Julie A.

Gallagher, “Women of Action, in Action: The New Politics of Black Women in New York City, 1944–1974” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 2003), 102–6; and Lauri Johnson, “A Generation of Women Activists: African American Female Educators in Harlem, 1930–1950,” Journal of African American History 89, no. 3 (Summer 2004): 223–40. 37. “Plans for Protest Parade Against the Execution of Odell Waller and the Poll Tax,” July 25, 1942, APR Papers, reel 21; Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), 174; and Cynthia Taylor, A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 160. 38. Ashley Totten to A. Philip Randolph, July 15, 1942, APR Papers, reel 1; and Pauli Murray to A. Philip Randolph, July 15, 1942, APR Papers, reel 1. 39. Chicago Defender, July 25, 1942; Pittsburgh Courier, August 1, 1942; and People’s Voice, August 1, 1942. 40. New York Times, July 29, 1917; Schierenbeck, “Lost and Found,” 9; James Weldon Johnson, Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson (1933; repr. New York: Da Capo, 2000), 320–21; and Sullivan, Lift Every Voice, 68–69. 41. Roscoe E. Lewis, “The Role of Pressure Groups in Maintaining Morale among Negroes,” Journal of Negro Education 12, no. 3 (Summer 1943): 464. 42. St. Louis Unit Constitution, T. D. McNeal Papers, reel 1. 43. St. Louis American, July 27, 1944; “March on Washington Opens 1944 Financial Drive,” press release, May 12, 1944, reel 1, T. D. McNeal Papers. 44. St. Louis Argus, June 12, 1942; and Hill, RACON, 494. 45. Oral History T-024, Interview with Theodore McNeal by Richard Resh and Franklin Rother, July 22, 1970, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri–St. Louis; Ted Potson, “From Shakespeare to FEPC,” New York Post, February 13, 1946, clipping in box 1, folder: Biographical Material, APR Papers; and Jervis Anderson, A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait (Berkley: University of California Press, 1986), 248.. 46. St. Louis Argus, May 29, 1942; and St. Louis American, June 4, 1942. 47. “Report of Committee on Resolutions to National Policy Conference,” in Proceedings of Conference Held in Detroit September 26–27, 1942, 20, March on Washington Movement, 1941–1945, FSN Sc 002, 968-2, SCCF. 48. Robbie Lieberman, “Another Side of the Story: African American Intellectuals Speak Out for Peace and Freedom during the Early Cold War Years,” in Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement, ed. Robbie Lieberman and Clarence Lang (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 21; and A. Philip Randolph and E. Pauline Myers, “Greetings,” June 30, 1943, in “Calling All Negroes! We Are Americans Too!,” program, June 30–July 4, 1943, March on Washington Movement, 1941–1945, FSN Sc 002, 968-3, SCCF. 49. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; repr. Boston: Bedford, 1997), 45. 50. St. Louis American, August 13, 1942.

220  221 70. St. Louis American, May 6, 1943; David Grant, Testimony to House of Representa-

tives Committee on Labor, June 6, 1944, T. D. McNeal Papers, reel 1.

71. Pamphlet distributed by solicitors, 1943, T. D. McNeal Papers, reel 1. 72. David Grant, Testimony to House of Representatives Committee on Labor, June

6, 1944, reel 1, T. D. McNeal Papers.

73. St. Louis American, June 3, 1943; St. Louis Argus, June 4, 1943; Pittsburgh Courier,

June 5, 1943; and Chicago Defender, June 12, 1943.

74. St. Louis American, June 17, 1943; Pittsburgh Courier, June 12, 1943; and Chicago

Defender, June 19, 1943; Card Sent to all MOWM, June 9, 1943, T. D. McNeal Papers, reel 1; and Pamphlet passed out to public at March on Bell Telephone Co, June 12, 1943, T. D. McNeal Papers, reel 1. 75. St. Louis American, September 2, 1943; and St. Louis Argus, September 3, 1943. 76. St. Louis Argus, September 24, 1943; Chicago Defender, September 25, 1943; and “Negroes Protest Telephone Discrimination through Mass Payment of Telephone Bills,” press release, September 1943, reel 2, T. D. McNeal Papers. 77. March on Washington Movement Press Release, December 9, 1943, reel 2, T. D. McNeal Papers; St. Louis Argus, December 17, 1943. 78. St. Louis American, February 4, 1943. 79. St. Louis Argus, September 17, 1943; St. Louis American, October 21, 1943; and St. Louis American, August 26, 1943. 80. Interview with Theodore McNeal by Richard Resh and Franklin Rother, July 22, 1970, T-024, Western Historical Manuscript Collection; Interview with Theodore D. McNeal by Bill Morrison, May 20, 1974, T-343, State Historical Society of Missouri; and Kirkendall, A History of Missouri, 270. 81. St. Louis Argus, May 19, 1944; St. Louis Argus, May 26, 1944; and Citizens Civil Rights Committee Statement, August 1, 1944, reel 1, T. D. McNeal Papers. 82. St. Louis American, May 25, 1944; and Citizens Civil Rights Committee Statement, August 1, 1944, reel 1, T. D. McNeal Papers. 83. St. Louis American, June 8, 1944; and St. Louis Argus, July 14, 1944. 84. St. Louis Argus, July 14, 1944; and “Job Situation for Women Here Serious,” n.d., reel 1, T. D. McNeal Papers. 85. St. Louis Argus, July 14, 1944; and St. Louis American, July 19, 1944. 86. St. Louis Argus, September 8, 1944; St. Louis American, September 21, 1944; St. Louis American, September 28, 1944; Lang, Grassroots at the Gateway, 67; and Gail Milissa Grant, At the Elbows of My Elders: One Family’s Journey toward Civil Rights (St. Louis: University of Missouri Press, 2008), 107. 87. St. Louis Post Dispatch, June 16, 1942. 88. “Keynote Address to the Policy Conference of the March on Washington Movement, Detroit, Michigan, September 26, 1942,” SCCF, March on Washington Movement, 1941–1945, microfiche FSN Sc 002, 968-2. 89. “National March on Washington Movement: Policies and Directives–Local Units,” n.d., APR Papers, reel 22.

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liberalism, the decline of organized labor, and anticommunist repression during the Cold War. The history of the NALC demonstrates that black trade unionists retained important leadership roles in the 1960s and 1970s. While they grappled with anticommunism and growing divisions within organized labor, those struggles did not prevent them from uniting the various strains of black activism during those decades. In addition to recognizing those contributions, therefore, this essay on the history of the NALC also begins to fill what Hall has called “a rupture in the narrative, a void at the center of the story of the modern civil rights movement.”5 * * * A. Philip Randolph had struggled to link the civil rights and labor movements since the 1920s, but not until the 1950s did he and other black trade unionists gain the influence necessary to realize that objective. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) established an impressive network of local unions, Economic Councils, and Ladies Auxiliaries in cities across the country, but it remained marginalized within the broader world of organized labor. Randolph’s leadership of the Brotherhood led to his election as president of the National Negro Congress in 1935, but the organization collapsed in the face of charges that it was dominated by the Communist Party. Cooperation between labor and civil rights activists was sustained by the March on Washington Movement, which Randolph initiated to protest discrimination in the armed forces and the defense industries during World War II, and by the National Council for a Permanent FEPC’s campaign to pass laws banning employment discrimination in cities and states across the country in the late 1940s. Although each of these initiatives won significant support from trade unionists and forged a cadre of black activists who would remain at the center of civil rights struggles for decades, they failed to establish a lasting organization through which black trade unionists could influence the direction of the broader civil rights and labor movements.6 What turned the tide for Randolph was the rise of a “New Negro labor leadership” in local unions and labor councils in cities across the United States. Over half a million black workers joined unions during

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voices were often overwhelmed by the twenty-five white vice presidents, Randolph was optimistic that the merged federation would “step up its fight against racism both in and out of the labor movement.” Younger trade unionists were disappointed, however, that delegates rejected Randolph’s proposal to ban discriminatory unions. “We wish to state here and now that Negro workers of America are in no mood to continue as foot mats in industry and step-children within the house of labor,” declared the Detroit-based Michigan Association of Negro Trade Unionists.8 Still limited in their ability to influence the national policies of the AFL-CIO, black trade unionists gained increasing power in local unions and civil rights groups. In 1954, Charles Hayes was elected president of the Chicago district of the United Packinghouse Workers of America, and he threw the union’s resources behind efforts to integrate public housing projects in the city, open white-collar jobs to black workers in meatpacking and other industries, and elect African Americans to positions of leadership in organized labor and local government. He worked closely with Willoughby Abner, a black attorney who directed education and political action for the Chicago district of the United Auto Workers union. In 1956, Abner won a heated contest for president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), defeating a candidate backed by Chicago’s moderate black congressman William Dawson. “When we got active, the NAACP was called a ‘tea-sipping’ organization, silk-stocking,” recalled an activist with the Packinghouse union, emphasizing the degree to which black trade unionists shifted the priorities of the organization toward the concerns of working-class African Americans. Similar alliances emerged in St. Louis, New York, and other industrial cities, most under the leadership of black activists who had joined CIO unions during World War II.9 The most effective local network of black trade unionists was the Trade Union Leadership Council, which was formed by Detroit autoworkers Horace Sheffield and Robert Battle in 1957. Working closely with Reverend C. L. Franklin, a Baptist minister whose daughter, Aretha, was just beginning her career as a pop star, Sheffield and Battle set out to create a working-class alternative to the more moderate NAACP. Setting up headquarters in an abandoned hardware store, they

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southern leaders were frequent guests at conventions of Cleveland Robinson’s union, as well as the Auto and Packinghouse unions in Detroit and Chicago. Their support was critical to the success of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King and other southern ministers formed to coordinate their local campaigns.12 In addition to strengthening the movement against Jim Crow, the alliance with southern activists put black trade unionists in a stronger position to challenge segregation and discrimination in organized labor. Over sixty black trade unionists attended a meeting that Randolph chaired at the fiftieth annual convention of the NAACP, which met in New York City in July 1959. Pointing out that over a million black workers belonged to unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, constituting the largest membership of African Americans outside the church, Randolph urged the assembled to organize themselves for leadership in “the struggle for economic equality and the pressing needs of civil rights.” The group drafted a resolution for the AFL-CIO convention that fall, calling for the expulsion of any union that did not drop all racial barriers to membership before June 1960. While the discussion was closed to the press, Cleveland Robinson presided over a public plenary that featured speeches by Randolph and Walter Reuther, who led both the United Auto Workers union and the Industrial Union Council of the AFL-CIO. While Randolph praised Reuther and AFL-CIO president George Meany for their personal commitments to civil rights, he blasted the federation for its “quite inadequate and much too slow” progress toward realizing those ideals. Reiterating his call for strict enforcement of civil rights policy, he demanded that the AFL-CIO “require labor organizations at all levels to comply with its constitutional provision outlawing race and religious discrimination.”13 The New York meeting laid the groundwork for the formation of the NALC. Even before Randolph’s resolution made it to the floor of the AFL-CIO convention the following September, it was weakened by removing any timelines or penalties for unions that continued their discriminatory practices. When Randolph and others objected to the changes, AFL-CIO president George Meany insisted that many black workers had chosen to belong to segregated unions. Accusing Randolph of ignoring “the democratic rights of Negro members to maintain the unions they want,” Meany demanded to know: “Who the hell appointed

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major disagreement erupted when Randolph insisted that the NALC take a prominent role in fighting “racism, communism, corruption and racketeering in the trade union movement.” Most black trade unionists shared Randolph’s belief that the Communist Party was a harmful force in the civil rights and labor movements, but some objected that they should focus squarely on fighting racism while leaving other issues to “white unionists” who had far more resources and influence than the NALC. They also observed that the Communist Party retained nearly no following in the United States, and that efforts to repress it were now being used to disrupt legitimate movements for social justice. After a heated debate, delegates agreed to a statement that “the NALC will unequivocally support and defend democracy and freedom at home and abroad.” In contrast to organizations Randolph headed in the past, which excluded Communists completely, the NALC constitution merely stipulated that no local branches could be “officered, controlled or dominated by communists, fascists or other totalitarians.”16 Having softened his stance on anti-Communism, Randolph faced a more vigorous challenge from women who felt they were being excluded from leadership in the NALC. Randolph had sympathized with feminism since the 1920s and had recruited women into leadership positions of nearly every organization he ran. At the same time, however, he viewed black men’s exclusion from family-supporting jobs as a principal cause of racial inequality and thus focused his attention on fighting discrimination in traditionally male employment sectors such as heavy industry and the building trades. Many black women shared those priorities, but they also often insisted that they not overshadow the skills that women brought to the civil rights and labor movements. “I’m sick and tired of you men discriminating against me as a woman,” one delegate shouted from the convention floor after Randolph nominated an all-male slate of candidates to replace the provisional leadership of the NALC. She was seconded by Jeanette Strong, an activist with the United Steel Workers union, who grabbed a microphone and shouted while Randolph tried in vain to regain the floor. “A stocky woman in a brown sweater, she became the center of a milling throng of angry male and female delegates,” the New York Times reported. “Arms swung, bodies crashed into one another, the gavel kept thundering and, through it all, Mrs. Strong kept talking.”17

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for racial equality. In February 1961, black trade unionists organized a two-day Workshop and Institute on Race Bias in Trade Unions, Industry and Government. Held a few weeks after the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, the meeting was addressed by Martin Luther King, Jr., NAACP president Roy Wilkins, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, and Kennedy’s secretary of labor, Arthur Goldberg. While Kennedy had not yet taken a clear stand on civil rights legislation, he suggested that equal employment policies were integral to his policies for economic growth. “I fully share your deep concern over the grave issue of unemployment and over the added burdens carried by those who suffer from the racial bias that still unhappily remains in our midst,” the president wrote in a telegraph to the NALC conference. A few weeks later, on March 6, Kennedy issued an executive order requiring federal agencies and contractors to take “affirmative action” to ensure that their employees were treated “without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin.” Randolph considered this the NALC’s first victory in Washington.20 In contrast to their success with the Kennedy administration, black trade unionists found the AFL-CIO still staunchly opposed to their demands. Participants in the Washington workshop issued a statement urging union leaders to set firm timelines for the elimination of segregation and discrimination from organized labor. Rather than responding, however, George Meany fired a black trade unionist who had attended the NALC workshop while employed by the AFL-CIO. The New York branch of the NALC called an emergency meeting of black trade unionists, who discussed various proposals for a “national work stoppage” or a mass protest outside the labor federation’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Some proposed suing discriminatory unions under the Landrum-Griffin Act, which Congress had passed to fight corruption in organized labor, but others objected that the law was designed to weaken the labor movement and thus should not be given legitimacy. “Let’s March on Washington,” most agreed, setting the stage for the NALC’s most successful mobilization.21 Initially, the AFL-CIO seemed to remain impervious to the NALC’s demands. Concerned that a protest against the federation would only strengthen conservative attacks against organized labor, Horace Sheffield convinced black trade unionists to delay their plans until

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labor secretary Herbert Hill testified before the Labor and Education Committee of the U.S. Congress, which Powell chaired. Reporting on a case of discrimination within the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, one of the most diverse and egalitarian affiliates of the AFL-CIO, Hill argued that the problem could be addressed only by suing discriminatory unions under the Landrum-Griffith Act. Several important leaders of the NALC endorsed that approach, including Horace Sheffield. Randolph dissented, however, and told Powell’s committee that the NALC was “uncompromisingly opposed to race bias in all labor unions and industry but also opposed to any witch hunt against a bona fide union.” Rather than attack an otherwise progressive union, Randolph maintained, “the basic remedy” to discrimination was “the enactment of federal fair employment practice legislation.” A resolution endorsing Hill’s plan was narrowly defeated at the NALC’s national convention in November 1962. “The enemies of labor would have been happy to see us make such a move because they would use it as a means of dividing and perhaps destroying the labor movement,” stated New York trade unionist Cleveland Robinson, who introduced an alternative resolution that criticized the Garment Workers without endorsing Hill’s proposal. “We were on the brink of disaster.”24 Seeing an opportunity to pass a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) law, which had been the primary goal of his activism since the 1940s, Randolph shifted the focus of the NALC’s March on Washington from the AFL-CIO to Congress. Some black trade unionists accused him of surrendering to Meany and other white labor leaders, but others recognized that the shift allowed the NALC to reach a far broader audience than they had in their campaign to reform organized labor. Bayard Rustin, a left-wing pacifist who had helped organize the March on Washington Movement during World War II and who worked closely with Randolph ever since, drew up a detailed proposal for a “mass descent” on the nation’s capital. Starting with a lobbying campaign aimed at creating “jobs for all Americans” and advancing a “broad and fundamental program for economic justice,” the mobilization would end with a “mass protest rally” aimed at calling attention to “the economic subordination of the Negro.” Rustin’s plan was closely modeled on the 1941 March on Washington that Randolph had organized and then canceled after President Franklin D. Roosevelt had

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groups in Detroit on June 23. “We’ve got to come to see that the problem of racial injustice is a national problem,” King stated in a widely praised address to the protest, emphasizing the links between struggles for integration and voting rights in the South and for jobs, housing, and education in the North. Meany was not convinced, but Wilkins, Young, and Reuther endorsed the March on Washington soon afterward.27 Now associated almost exclusively with King, the March on Washington was a powerful testament to the tremendous influence that Randolph and other black trade unionists had on the civil rights movement of the 1960s. While they expanded their agenda to include integration and voting rights in the South, NALC leaders insisted that employment and economic reforms were essential to any progress on civil rights. In addition to passing Kennedy’s civil rights bill, the official demands of the march included an FEPC law, an increase in the minimum wage, and a federal public works program aimed at placing “all unemployed workers—Negro and white—on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.” As the official leader of the protest, Randolph delivered a largely forgotten keynote address at the rally that ended with King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. “We are the advanced guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom,” Randolph declared. “The revolution reverberates throughout the land, touching every city, every town, every village where blacks are segregated, oppressed and exploited, but this civil rights demonstration is not confined to the Negro; nor is it confined to civil rights.”28 Far from reining in Randolph, other speakers echoed the militant tone and expansive agenda that the black trade unionist set in his opening remarks at the Lincoln Memorial. “Let us not forget that we are involved in a serious social revolution,” declared SNCC representative John Lewis, urging marchers to demand a civil rights bill that protected the disfranchised sharecropper, the homeless, and hungry, and “a maid who earns $5 a week in the home of a family whose income is $100,000 a year.” White union leader Walter Reuther called Kennedy’s bill “the first meaningful step,” but insisted that it needed to be expanded and strengthened. “The job question is crucial,” he declared, “because we will not solve education or housing or public accommodations as long as millions of American Negroes are treated as second-class economic citizens and denied jobs.” Whitney Young, of the National Urban

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add an FEPC clause to the bill, he wrote to each member of the House Judiciary Committee that “without equal opportunity for employment, minority groups will find themselves unable to enjoy many of the other opportunities we seek to guarantee them.”31 Even before the marchers returned to their homes, however, it became clear that many Americans were not prepared to embrace the dream of interracial harmony that King had articulated so eloquently at the Lincoln Memorial. Buses were pelted with stones and bullets as they passed through Baltimore the evening after the march, and the next morning two marchers were beaten brutally after seeking service at a bus depot in Meridian, Mississippi. Later that day “a howling, bottletossing, egg-slinging mob” prevented a black couple from moving into a home that they had purchased in suburban Philadelphia, and two weeks later four thousand white homeowners marched against a law banning housing discrimination in Chicago. The depth of opposition to racial equality was demonstrated most dramatically in Birmingham, Alabama, where a bomb ripped through a black church on September 15, 1963, killing four young girls and wounding dozens of worshippers who were preparing for Sunday services. Such hostility was not restricted to the South, however, as evidenced in growing opposition to civil rights laws in such liberal states as Michigan and California. “The white North is no more ready to accept genuine integration and real racial equality than the deep South,” the Saturday Evening Post reported the week after the March on Washington.32 In the face of that backlash, black trade unionists struggled to sustain the belief that significant numbers of white Americans would ever unite with blacks around their shared economic concern. “We have been duped—or have duped ourselves—into believing the chains have been broken, when in truth we have only been chained more securely,” declared a leader of King’s SCLC at a conference marked by “disappointment that the high hopes inspired by the Aug. 28, March on Washington were not materializing.” Urban League leader Whitney Young, who had previously called for economic policies that would benefit black and white workers equally, called for federal programs targeted solely to African Americans. “For more than 300 years the white American has received special consideration, or ‘preferential treatment,’ if you will, over the Negro,” he wrote in the New York Times. “What we ask now is

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unionists helped build support among unions for the Poor People’s Movement that Martin Luther King initiated to shift the nation’s priorities in 1967. They led an effort to create a national holiday to honor King after his assassination in 1968 and merged the NALC into the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, which they formed with younger activists in 1972.35 Men continued to dominate the NALC, but female black trade unionists found other avenues for leadership in the late 1960s. It was NALC cofounder Dorothy L. Robinson who first proposed the need for an “NAACP for women,” after feminists found that civil rights leaders and government officials were not enforcing the Civil Rights Act’s ban on sex discrimination. That was the inspiration for the National Organization for Women (NOW), which Robinson formed in 1966 with Anna Arnold Hedgeman and other organizers of the March on Washington as well as white feminists such as Betty Friedan. Maida Springer joined the leadership of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and black women helped organize the Poor People’s Movement and the CBTU, but continued resistance to their leadership led Springer, Addie Wyatt, and other veterans of the NALC to team with younger activists to form the Coalition of Labor Union Women in 1974.36 Black trade unionists were hindered by the backlash against organized labor and the Left, by conservatism within organized labor, and by divisions among black activists, but none of this prevented them from retaining tremendous influence within the civil rights and labor movements of the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to keeping demands for jobs and economic justice at the center of the movement’s agenda at a time when federal authorities and more moderate civil rights leaders would have preferred to focus more narrowly on ending segregation in the Jim Crow South, they forged an alliance between the civil rights and labor movements that proved critical to passing the Civil Rights Act and initiating the War on Poverty. Those victories were undermined by the continued conservative backlash, as well as by the commitment of liberals to winning the war in Vietnam, but they proved critical as black workers faced a rising tide of deindustrialization and a reinvigorated backlash in the late 1960s and early 1970s. More than any other group of black activists, trade unionists linked the many strains of black activism that formed the long civil rights movement.

242  243 8. “250 Unionists Join Rep. Diggs in Appeal for Quick Civil Rights Laws,” Chi-

cago Defender, November 26, 1955; “Undercurrent in Labor,” Chicago Defender, December 3, 1955; and “Mich. Unionists Guard Race Gains,” Chicago Defender, December 3, 1955. 9. Roger Horowitz, Negro and White, Unite and Fight: A Social History of Industrial Unionism in Meatpacking, 1930–1990 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press), 1997, 206–242; and Christopher Reed, The Chicago NAACP and the Rise of Black Professional Leadership, 1910–1966 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 180. 10. Robert Battle, III, and Horace Sheffield, “Trade Union Leadership Council: Experiment in Community Action,” New University Thought 3 (September/ October 1963): 34–40; and “Raise Our Union Status that the Whole Race May Be Improved,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 29, 1959. 11. “100,000 across Nation Protest Till Lynching,” Chicago Defender, October 8, 1955; “Boycott Is Urged in Youth’s Killing,” New York Times, October 12, 1955; “Garden Rally,” Amsterdam News, June 2, 1956; “Randolph Reports on Garden Rally,” Amsterdam News, June 16, 1956; and Howell Raines, My Soul Is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered (New York: Penguin, 1988), 39. 12. William P. Jones, “The Unknown Origins of the March on Washington: Civil Rights Politics and the Black Working Class,” Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas 7, no. 3 (Fall 2010): 33–52 13. “Meeting Minutes,” May 26, 1959, James Haughton Papers, Schomburg Center; “Reuther, Randolph to Address Labor Sessions of NAACP Meet,” Atlanta Daily World, July 1, 1959; and “A. Philip Randolph Blasts Race Bias in NAACP Address,” Atlanta Daily World, July 18, 1959. 14. “Meany, in a Fiery Debate, Denounces Negro Unionist,” New York Times, September 24, 1959; “AFL-CIO Adopts ‘Go Slow’ Policy,” Los Angeles Sentinel, October 1, 1959; and “[Ottley] Defends NAACP’s War on Union Bias,” Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1960. 15. “New Negro Labor Group Now Has 25 Councils,” Amsterdam News, May 14, 1960; and A. Philip Randolph, Keynote Address to Founding Convention of the NALC, Detroit, May 28, 1960, Haughton Papers, box 2, folder 13. 16. “Story Behind the Birth of Militant Labor Body,” Chicago Defender June 8, 1960. 17. “Negro Labor Union Names 2 Women,” New York Times, May 30, 1960. 18. “Women Demand Positions on NALC Board,” Chicago Defender, June 9, 1960; and “The Women,” Amsterdam News, June 4, 1960. 19. Joseph Turrini, “Phooie on Louie: African American Detroit and the Election of Jerry Cavanagh,” Michigan History (November/December 1999): 11–17; A. Philip Randolph, “Annual Report: NALC, 1960–1961,” box 3, folder 3, Haughton Papers; and NALC Newsletter, August, 1961, Haughton Papers, box 3, folder 8. 20. Randolph, “Annual Report,” 13; “Kennedy Bars Bias in Work Done for U.S.,” Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1961.

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Randolph’s forced choice between racial identity and labor loyalty reframes him in the light of his early years as a Harlem radical, when his socialist-labor principles set him at odds with those, notably Marcus Garvey and Randolph’s erstwhile Socialist Party ally Hubert Harrison, who argued that only race-based appeals could arouse and unite black workers. During the 1920s, Randolph maintained that one could truly be a “race man” through the power and security offered by socialism and the labor movement. Over the next forty years, he sought to fuse race and unionism. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the March on Washington Movement, the National Council for a Permanent FEPC, the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom all represented examples of labor “working” for working-class African Americans. But the controversy at Ocean Hill–Brownsville presented a different set of challenges. The UFT was an overwhelmingly white union. Its teachers worked in the black community, but were not of it. Many in that community, in fact, blamed white UFT teachers for the low achievement levels of their children, which almost inevitably translated into foreshortened career and life outcomes. The Ocean Hill–Brownsville local school board’s attempt to terminate the unionized teachers was an expression of black working-class solidarity, but one that lay outside the framework of organized labor. This placed Randolph in an impossible position. How could he convince New York’s African American community that the wellbeing of a white-dominated union was important enough to discountenance the actions of a local school board itself composed of working-class African Americans? Conversely, how could Randolph renounce a union that had contributed generously to civil rights causes, as well as a labor movement that had done so much for African American workers, including his own Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters? The decision Randolph made at Ocean Hill–Brownsville in the fall of 1968 would be the last important one of his career. It would in many respects return him to the debates of his early activist days over the role of racial identities in class-based movements. Then, Randolph had argued that socialism and unionism marked the road to black manhood. Much of what occurred over the years that followed vindicated him. But Ocean Hill–Brownsville would expose the

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he could meet, one who described himself upon entering office as “a Roosevelt New Dealer” and declared “John F. Kennedy was a little too conservative to suit my taste.”3 But alliances with traditional party politicians came at a price. Rustin’s February 1965 Commentary essay, “From Protest to Politics,” mapped out a post–direct action strategy for the civil rights movement that featured coalitions with groups possessing similar, but not identical, interests: white liberals, religious organizations, and above all, organized labor. This new strategy would mean supporting Democratic Party leaders even when they were less than forthright in contending with instances of racial discrimination, as at the 1964 national convention. It would mean scaling back legitimate protest activities to avoid giving aid and comfort to the Johnson administration’s enemies, as during the 1964 presidential campaign’s demonstration moratorium. It might even mean holding one’s tongue as an unpopular war escalated, to avoid antagonizing a powerful president committed to civil rights and antipoverty initiatives. This substitution of pragmatism for moral certitude exposed Randolph and Rustin to charges of opportunism and hypocrisy from disillusioned former allies on the Left who were unused to the constraints of negotiation and compromise. Both Randolph and Rustin had spent much of their careers speaking truth to power. Rustin, an ex-Communist, had served time in federal prison during World War II as a draft resister and had worked for three organizations—the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and the War Resisters League (WRL)— that advocated for peace and civil rights from positions well outside the ideological mainstream. Randolph had begun his career speaking in favor of socialism and civil rights on Harlem street corners. But placing their allegiances with Lyndon Johnson meant that their days on the margins were over. When President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964, Randolph was present as the president’s guest and received a ceremonial pen to commemorate the occasion. A year later, Rustin received a pen of his own as Johnson marked the passage of the Voting Rights Act.4 On the same day, August 6, 1965, the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, a group of pacifists protested the escalating Vietnam War outside the gates of the White House.5 These were men and women with whom Randolph and Rustin

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Randolph never gave up on it. He agreed with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1961 declaration to the AFL-CIO national convention that Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires and few Negro employers. Our needs are identical with labor’s needs—decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures.  .  .  . The two most dynamic and cohesive liberal forces in the country are the labor movement and the Negro freedom movement.7

Randolph knew that a racially fractured working class was impotent. It would be APRI’s mission to prevent past divisions from poisoning the future. Shortly after the founding of APRI, Randolph’s ties to the Johnson administration were rewarded with the honorary chairmanship of a White House conference on race titled “To Fulfill These Rights.” Randolph viewed the conference as an opportunity to push Johnson’s War on Poverty in the direction of his social democratic goals, which included a federal government-backed full employment program and a guaranteed minimum income. Wary of the costs associated with adding jobs and entitlements to the national economy, President Johnson was tacking toward less expensive skills and education programs as the centerpieces of his antipoverty effort, but Randolph believed the president could be lobbied toward a more expansive agenda. Johnson had, after all, spoken movingly about his experiences with the minority poor during his time as a young South Texas schoolteacher in his speech introducing the Voting Rights Bill in March 1965.8 Perhaps if the president was shown that drastically increased antipoverty expenditures could be absorbed by an expanding American economy without the need for increased taxes and even without cutting the defense budget, he could be convinced to launch what Randolph called “a real war on poverty.”9 Randolph and Rustin assembled a blueprint for a “Freedom Budget for All Americans,” which they announced to government officials and civil rights leaders at a planning session for “To Fulfill These Rights” in November 1965. At that time, there was still enough optimism surrounding Johnson’s Great Society ambitions to make the proposal a subject for plausible debate. But by October 1966, when the Freedom Budget

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George Meany and the AFL-CIO. Randolph’s labor movement loyalties also hemmed in his positions on civil rights issues. For years, Randolph had argued with Meany over the treatment of African Americans in the AFL-CIO. But he believed too deeply in the labor movement to abandon it, even over issues relating to race. By the late 1960s, Randolph’s sense of mission and possibility was bound up with organized labor. The movement served as his political and philosophical anchor. Given the growing atmosphere of despair in America’s black communities as the limits of the integrationist phase of the civil rights movement became more apparent, it was only a matter of time before the claims of race and labor collided. That time came in 1968, at Ocean Hill–Brownsville. The neighborhood had been predominantly white until the late 1950s, when an influx of African Americans and Latinos seeking to escape overcrowded conditions in other parts of the borough, combined with racially exclusionary government-sponsored housing and lending policies, created a segregated neighborhood. By 1967, the area was over 90 percent nonwhite. That year, in response to the failure of the movement to integrate the New York City public schools—which were less integrated than they had been at the time of the 1954 Brown decision—Ocean Hill–Brownsville residents began demanding control of education in their neighborhood.12 In response, the New York City Board of Education, with funding from the Ford Foundation, established an experimental “community control” project in the Ocean Hill–Brownsville schools. The UFT, an AFL-CIO union representing the city’s 55,000 public school teachers, initially supported the project, but soon fell into a dispute with the local board elected by Ocean Hill–Brownsville residents to run its schools over the limits of the board’s powers. Most teachers in Ocean Hill–Brownsville were white, as they were in New York generally; African Americans represented only 8 percent of the public school teachers in the city.13 The Ocean Hill–Brownsville local board was composed almost entirely of African Americans. Randolph and Rustin were especially close to the UFT. The union’s president, Albert Shanker, had ties to the Socialist movement, and under his leadership the UFT had become a major patron of the civil rights movement. UFT members had participated in the 1963 March on Washington, the Freedom Summer voter registration drive of 1964, and

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double-edged sword, could empower reactionary whites as easily as it could progressive blacks. Thus, as the UFT’s dispute with the Ocean Hill–Brownsville local board deepened during the 1967–1968 academic year, Randolph had many reasons to support the union. But in an increasingly toxic racial environment, he was clearly on a collision course with his own “community.” The crux of the argument between the Ocean Hill–Brownsville local board and the UFT was over personnel. Members of the local board, as well as Rhody McCoy, the administrator whom they had hired to run the experimental project, argued that “community control” was meaningless without the authority to select and remove teachers. They also complained that the white teachers in the Ocean Hill–Brownsville schools were incapable of relating to working-class black students, whose culture and learning abilities they denigrated. Shanker fired back, accusing McCoy and the local board of reverse racism. It was the UFT and not the supporters of community control, Shanker argued, that truly represented the values of the civil rights movement: integration, nonviolence, and individual dignity. Shanker also vowed to oppose any attempt by the local board to dismiss unionized teachers in the Ocean Hill–Brownsville schools. The UFT had won tenure rights and due process protections for its members after hard bargaining with the city’s central Board of Education. These made it virtually impossible to terminate a tenured teacher in the public school system. Even inter-district transfers, where underperforming educators were moved to schools willing to accept them, were handled centrally. McCoy and the Ocean Hill–Brownsville local board regarded these rules as self-interested attempts to save the jobs of incompetent and racist teachers. Shanker and the UFT membership viewed them as essential labor rights. By the end of the 1967–1968 school year, relations between white teachers in Ocean Hill–Brownsville and the local board had reached the breaking point. The dispute soon grew beyond the neighborhood and became a citywide issue. The UFT received assistance from an unexpected constituency: middle- and working-class white Catholic New Yorkers. Irish and Italian residents of the outer borough neighborhoods most opposed to school integration—who heretofore had regarded the liberal Jewish union with suspicion—now backed the teachers. Shanker believed he

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While Randolph could not turn his back on a union fighting for its rank and file, neither could he turn away from black parents and school children who had been failed by the city’s public education system. Historians Craig Steven Wilder and Wendell Pritchett have shown how white institutions and practices were deeply implicated in the historical formation of “ghettos” like Ocean Hill–Brownsville.16 There, African Americans, cut off from resources that could have served as engines of upward mobility—jobs, housing, education—instead struggled as a subordinated racial caste. The ghetto was a white creation. Wilder argued that “the ghetto guaranteed white Brooklynites a monopoly in public services and perpetual control of the local government, quality schools, cleaner and safer streets, more efficient transportation, a greater share of government subsidies, superior medical and health facilities, and greater access to parks, pools, and playgrounds. Those conditions, when coupled with white Brooklynites’ power to limit the pool of nonwhite labor competitors, forcibly volunteered black Brooklynites for unemployment, crime, disease, and mortality.”17 Randolph, of course, understood the ways in which structural and personal forms of racism created the ghettoes of twentieth-century urban America. As both a socialist and a civil rights activist, he was well aware of how these operated; he had fought against them for half a century. Randolph was also painfully familiar with the role played by elements of the labor movement itself in perpetuating racialized employment discrimination, and he knew that African American teachers were significantly underrepresented within the UFT. Yet Randolph could not abandon the UFT or its president. Shanker was a brother socialist and a man who even in the midst of a bitter racial confrontation embodied Randolph’s hopes for a unified labor and civil rights movement. Six years earlier, in 1962, Shanker and Randolph had worked together as allies in Ocean Hill–Brownsville during the Beth-El Hospital strike conducted by Local 1199 of the Drug and Hospital Workers. They had helped the interracial 1199 win collective bargaining rights and substantial improvements in wages, benefits, and working conditions.18 For Randolph, the Beth-El victory epitomized the power of a union to transcend racial differences and offer dignity to workers—all workers. Randolph had staked his life on this idea. Even under vastly different circumstances at Ocean Hill–Brownsville, in the face of deeply racialized

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liberals such as Lindsay, a patrician reformer who had made racial justice the hallmark of his administration. Police often had to physically separate white strikers from black protesters during confrontations at school entrances and on street corners. Lindsay himself was booed off a Brooklyn synagogue stage by UFT sympathizers and his car pelted with debris as it left the scene. Further fueling white unionist racial anger was the stereotype, which Randolph himself had fought against his entire life, that African Americans were “strikebreakers” and “scabs.” Ocean Hill–Brownsville also unleashed the pent-up fury of a black community first denied the opportunity for integrated education and now the chance to operate its own schools. The UFT teachers had clearly been terminated because they were white. One black educator was sent a letter by mistake and reinstated by the Ocean Hill–Brownsville local board after discovering the error. It was apparent that some in the city’s African American community believed that no white teacher, no matter how well-meaning or how well trained or how deeply experienced, was qualified to teach black school children. On occasion, frustration took the form of anti-Semitic outbursts. Shanker saw to it that the more egregious examples, notably a mimeograph sent to white Ocean Hill– Brownsville teachers describing Jews as “Middle East murderers of colored people,” “bloodsucking exploiters,” and “money changers,” were circulated throughout the city for maximum public relations effect. Ocean Hill–Brownsville community leaders did not countenance these attacks, but in the view of the city’s Jewish community, they were less than forthright in denouncing them. Rhody McCoy commented that “we have more things to be concerned about than making anti-Semitism a priority.”20 UFT teachers in Ocean Hill–Brownsville were also harassed by community activists, who in one notorious incident pelted them with bullets and threatened to “carry you out in pine boxes.”21 As discontent consumed the city, Randolph and Rustin stood with the UFT. A few days after the strike began, both men publicly endorsed Shanker and the union. To Randolph, the issue of worker security was paramount. “Of course I’ll support [the teachers],” Randolph told Rustin.22 When Rustin noted the obvious—that theirs would be a lonely, unpopular position in the black community—Randolph replied: “What does that matter? It’s due process.”23 Randolph believed that the real casualties of a broken union, even a “white” one like the UFT, would be

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school teachers a voice in both trade union and educational politics in the city. Like Randolph’s Negro American Labor Council—and with some membership overlap—it sought to represent the interests of African Americans within the trade union movement. This certainly was a cause close to Randolph’s heart. The ATA also strongly opposed the idea, then prevalent in the city’s educational establishment, that African American pupils were “culturally deprived” and thus incapable of learning on the same level as white students. Here too was a point of convergence with Randolph, who maintained that black schoolchildren had been shortchanged by ghetto schools.26 Nonetheless, Randolph could not ally with the ATA at Ocean Hill– Brownsville. The organization was a strong supporter of community control and of the local board that had attempted to terminate unionized teachers. ATA leaders Albert Vann and Leslie Campbell (later known as Jitu Weusi) taught in Ocean Hill–Brownsville and were vocal critics of the UFT. Vann, Campbell, and the ATA were also deeply influenced by Black Power ideology and viewed UFT teachers in Ocean Hill–Brownsville as interlopers and oppressors.27 To Randolph, this smacked of the same racialized working-class divisiveness that he had fought against for decades. He did not, of course, oppose a distinctly black voice within the American labor movement; that was what his Negro American Labor Council, as well as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, were intended to provide. But a separatist cultural ideology—and by 1968 the ATA had replaced demands for fairer representation for African American teachers within the organized labor movement with an almost exclusively culture-based program—was an agenda with which Randolph was deeply uncomfortable. Randolph believed in the value and potential of African American schoolchildren, as did the ATA activists. But he also believed in racial integration— which they did not. Randolph once again found himself propelled back toward the UFT and Albert Shanker. Randolph and Rustin appeared at a press conference on September 17, at which they made the case for the UFT. The two men were careful to avoid the racial implications of the dispute, characterizing it instead as a simple matter of “job security.”28 An interracial group of labor leaders signed their pro-UFT statement. On September 19, an advertisement appeared in the leading New York newspapers under the sponsorship

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and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Local 1199 of the Drug and Hospital Workers; and District Council 65 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They sponsored a pro-community control resolution in the Central Labor Council, which thanks to Shanker’s back channel lobbying was not allowed to come to a vote. Frustrated with this maneuver and determined to have their voices heard, fifty African American unionists sat in at Central Labor Council headquarters on November 13, demanding that the strike be settled favorably toward the Ocean Hill–Brownsville local board. One demonstrator proclaimed that he was a black man before he was a union man.34 A Local 1199 official announced that “those of us who are black and Puerto Rican will set up our own labor movement,” and a District 65 leader said, “if we have to split the labor movement and go our own way, we will.”35 Faced with the dissolution of his most cherished alliance, Randolph worked behind the scenes to settle the strike. He and Rustin were virtually the only African American public figures with any influence over Shanker. The two men prevailed on the UFT president to accept less than he probably could have received, given Lindsay’s desperation. The months-long schools shutdown was costing the city millions and angry parents were threatening to punish the mayor at the polls in his upcoming reelection bid. The strike’s final settlement, reached on November 17, provided for the return of the terminated white teachers to the Ocean Hill–Brownsville schools and the appointment of a New York State trustee to oversee the community-control project. But it did not permanently remove the local board or end the Ocean Hill–Brownsville experiment in its entirety, as Shanker had initially demanded.36 Randolph’s assistance in softening the blow to the Ocean Hill– Brownsville local board won him no favor in New York’s black community. His pro-UFT stance alienated activists and everyday folk alike. Leslie Roberts, a black labor official, charged that “people like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin do not speak for us. [They have] sold out. Whatever you have done in the past, you have destroyed.”37 Particularly disheartening to Randolph was a letter, written immediately after the publication of the September 19 “Black Trade Unionists” advertisement he had sponsored, by an African American couple from Queens Village, New York, Mr. and Mrs. G. A. Bassett. “My wife and I have long been admirers of yours,” it began, but continued:

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to ingratiate himself with outer borough whites during his victorious reelection campaign, apologizing for errors of judgment during the Ocean Hill–Brownsville crisis. Lindsay’s second mayoral term featured few of the ambitious educational policy initiatives of his first. Under the terms of the school decentralization law of 1969, the UFT effectively became a co-manager of the New York public education system. By 1970, the Ocean Hill–Brownsville local board, along with Rhody McCoy, had been replaced. The community control experiment was discontinued. Randolph had struck a major blow for labor rights at Ocean Hill– Brownsville. He had helped Shanker and the UFT defend principles of worker security that had animated Randolph since his soapbox days on Harlem street corners. No employee should lose his job on a whim, or because of the color of his skin, or, indeed, because he belonged to a union. Terminations were to be for cause, after the opportunity for hearings that comported with due process protections. Randolph had helped the UFT fight successfully for these principles. But victory had come at the cost of his standing in the black community. Marginalized along with Rustin, Randolph could no longer speak from a position of unquestioned authority in that community. Because of the respect he had earned during his half-century of activism, leadership, and sacrifice, Randolph was spared most of the open expressions of animosity that the younger Rustin had to endure.41 There was no question, however, of Randolph’s loss of influence and power. The driving forces of his career had crashed together catastrophically. Randolph had always maintained that labor rights and civil rights were inseparable. For most of his life, he appeared to be correct. Indeed, by the time of the March on Washington in 1963, his dream of an interracial movement for social and economic democracy seemed close enough to touch. But like Jay Gatsby’s dockside green light, Randolph’s dream may have already been behind him. A divisive war; a New Left concerned more with culture than economics; a black nationalist impulse that privileged race over class; a disillusioned, backlash-influenced white liberal population; an unresponsive presidential administration; a “community” movement that divided historic allies—all had combined by 1968 to create a powerful undertow bearing him back into the past. In the wake of Ocean

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told an interviewer in 1970, “that the racial aspect of the [Ocean Hill– Brownsville] problem was as deep and significant as the union aspect of the problem.”45 In this, Randolph may well have been correct.46 But history turns as much on perception as it does on reality. By the fall of 1968, black New Yorkers held a collective understanding of “equality” that was based primarily on considerations of race and community and fundamentally at odds with Randolph’s life experience and activist vision. Randolph was suspicious of “community” as a vehicle of social change, since he had known it primarily as a cover for racism and reaction. His antipathy toward forms of exclusionary racial nationalism, which dated back to his younger days as a socialist orator and writer, had not diminished over the decades. Randolph believed Rhody McCoy and the Ocean Hill–Brownsville local board divided and confused the black working class with chauvinistic and separatist demagogy just as Marcus Garvey had in the 1910s and 1920s. Randolph, of course, had spent years on the front lines of the struggle for racial equality. But as his career wound down, he was more closely aligned with a class-based, labor-driven, and state-centered worldview that resonated less deeply with the African American working class he had led and championed. Early in his career, Randolph used the power of a union to win black workers economic security and professional respect. He never stopped arguing that organized labor could simultaneously serve the needs of black workers and black men. But as Ocean Hill–Brownsville showed so painfully, a white-dominated labor movement could not always offer black Americans what they may have needed most: dignity. For this, they would look elsewhere, beyond organized labor, and travel to places Randolph could not go. Labor rights or civil rights? At Ocean Hill–Brownsville, Randolph must have known that however he chose, there was much to lose. That he chose as he did testifies to his integrity and courage. But the necessity for the choice itself testifies to the tragic power of the most laudable American impulses to impose contradictions that even those most devoted to social and economic justice cannot overcome. A. Philip Randolph’s dream of American working-class interracialism remains their prisoner.

268  269 25. See Clarence Taylor, Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights, and the

New York City Teachers Union (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).

26. See Podair, The Strike that Changed New York, 153–82. 27. Ibid., 41, 58, 96–97, 153–82. 28. New York Times, September 18, 1968, 32. 29. Ibid., September 19, 1968, 39. 30. Ibid. 31. Podair, The Strike that Changed New York, 135. 32. Ibid. 33. Ibid. 34. Ibid., 134. 35. Ibid. 36. Shanker, however, was eventually able to obtain the Ocean Hill–Brownsville proj-

ect’s termination through a UFT-backed state school decentralization law, passed in 1969, which folded the Ocean Hill–Brownsville district into a larger one. 37. Podair, The Strike that Changed New York, 135. 38. Mr. and Mrs. G. A. Bassett to A. Philip Randolph, September 19, 1968, APR Papers, reel 25. 39. A. Philip Randolph to Mr. and Mrs. G. A. Bassett, September 30, 1968, APR Papers, reel 25. 40. Ibid. 41. See Kahlenberg, Tough Liberal, 101–2; Thomas R. Brooks, “A Strategist without a Movement,” New York Times Magazine, February 16, 1969, 24–25, 104–12; Jerald Podair, Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 92; D’Emilio, Lost Prophet, 470. 42. A. Philip Randolph, “Response at 80th Birthday Celebration,” May 6, 1969, APR Papers, reel 29. 43. A. Philip Randolph, “Statement at Testamonial Dinner for Albert Shanker,” December 15, 1969, APR Papers, reel 29. 44. Ibid. 45. A. Philip Randolph, Interview with John Slawson, April 20, 1970, APR Papers, reel 33. 46. Indeed, the successful organization of the predominantly nonwhite New York City school paraprofessionals by the UFT in 1969 supports Randolph’s understanding of the primacy of class interests over racial identities. See A. Philip Randolph, “The Paraprofessionals and the New York School Crisis,” May 6, 1970, APR Papers, reel 30.

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Select Bibliography

Anderson, Jervis. The Meaning of Our Numbers. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972. ———. A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973. Arnesen, Eric. Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. Bates, Beth Tompkins. Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925–1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. Bynum, Cornelius L. A. Philip Randolph and the Struggle for Civil Rights. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011. Carson, Clayborne. “Civil Rights Reform and the Black Freedom Struggle.” In Charles W. Eagles, ed., The Civil Rights Movement in America. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986. 19–37. Cha-Jua, Sundiata Keita, and Clarence Lang. “The ‘Long Movement’ as Vampire: Temporal and Spatial Fallacies in Recent Black Freedom Studies.” Journal of African American History 92, no. 2 (2007): 265–88. Chateauvert, Melinda. Marching Together: Women of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997. Clark, Kenneth B. “The Civil Rights Movement: Momentum and Organization.” Daedalus 95, no. 1 (1966): 239–67.

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272  273 Podair, Jerald E. The Strike that Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill– Brownsville Crisis. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. Santino, Jack. Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle: Stories of Black Pullman Porters. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Self, Robert O. American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. Sitkoff, Harvard. “Racial Militancy and Interracial Violence in the Second World War.” Journal of American History 58, no. 3 (1971): 661–81. Taylor, Cynthia. A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader. New York: New York University Press, 2006. Theoharis, Jeanne. “Black Freedom Studies: Re-imagining and Redefining the Fundamentals.” History Compass 4 no. 2 (2006): 348–67. ———, and Komozi Woodard, eds. Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940–1980. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Trotter, Joe William, Jr. Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915–45, 2nd edition. 1985; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Tye, Larry. Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class. New York: Holt, 2005. Tyson, Timothy B. Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. Wintz, Cary D. African American Political Thought, 1890–1930: Washington, Du Bois, Garvey, and Randolph. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1995. Wray, Wendell. The Reminiscences of A. Philip Randolph. New York: Columbia University, 1973.

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About the Contributors

Eric Arnesen is Professor of History at George Washington University. He is the author most recently of Brotherhoods of Color. A former president of the Historical Society, Professor Arnesen teaches courses on modern U.S. history, American labor history, and race and public policy. He contributes regularly to the Chicago Tribune, and his review essays have appeared in the New Republic, the Boston Globe, and Historically Speaking. Melinda Chateauvert is an activist and historian living in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. She is currently a fellow at the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. This essay updates her first book, Marching Together: Women of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Her new book, Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk, examines the meanings of citizenship, human rights, racism, gender, and sexuality. Erik S. Gellman is Associate Professor of History at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is the author of Death Blow to Jim Crow: The >> 275 

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Jerald Podair is Professor of History and Robert S. French Professor of American Studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. His recent books include a biography of Bayard Rustin and The Strike That Changed New York, which was a finalist for the Organization of American Historians’ Liberty Legacy Foundation Award and received honorable mention for the Urban History Association’s Book Award. Cynthia Taylor is Assistant Professor at Dominican University of California. She is the author of A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader. Joe William Trotter, Jr., is Giant Eagle Professor of History and Social Justice at Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915–45. His most recent published works include an edited volume (with Earl Lewis and Tera Hunter) on African American urban history and policy and (with Patricia Cooper) a special labor issue of the Journal of Urban History. Professor Trotter is also a past president of the Labor and WorkingClass History Association. In addition to his work as Chair of the Department of History, he is also director of Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE).

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A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), 250–51, 254, 262 African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, 31–32, 42, 46, 48, 65, 70, 77, 80–82, 93, 95, 106–8, 143, 165 African-American Teachers Association (ATA), 260–61 American Federation of Labor (AFL). See also American Federation of LaborCongress of Industrial Organizations, 6, 10, 12–13, 16, 25–26, 29, 36, 64, 69, 131, 133, 135–36, 139, 140–43, 148, 150, 152, 155, 157, 159, 161, 226 American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFLCIO), xi, 1, 8, 15, 26–27, 159, 164, 185, 223–24, 226–27, 229–30, 233–35, 238, 240, 243, 250–51, 253, 262, 266 American Federation of Teachers, 201 anti-Communism, 231 Associated Negro Press, 119, 126, 152 Association for the Study of African American Life and History, 2 Baker, Ella, 14, 175, 177, 189, 192 Barnett, Claude, 119, 152, 157, 160–61 Bethune, Mary McLeod, 169, 176, 184 Blackwell, Nita, 211 Bolshevik Revolution, 64, 68 Broonzy, Big Bill, 115–17, 126 Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids (BSCP), 2–3, 5–7, 11–12, 14, 16,

18, 21–30, 32–41, 44, 70, 77, 79, 86–89, 101–3, 105, 107–9, 111–15, 118, 121–27, 129, 131, 134–37, 139, 140–44, 146, 148, 152, 154, 157, 159, 164, 166, 168–70, 172–78, 180–82, 184–85, 193, 198, 201–2, 204–6, 211–13, 215–16, 225 Chicago Defender, 22, 33, 63, 75, 98, 138, 149, 158–62, 186, 215, 218–19, 221, 226, 232, 242–44 Chicago, Illinois, 200 Chrysalis, The, 105, 106, 115, 121–22 Citizen’s Civil Rights Committee, 212 City College of New York, 30 Civil Rights Act of 1964, 184, 189, 240 Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, 37, 241 Coalition of Labor Union Women, 241 Cold War, 17–18, 26, 39, 154, 156–57, 162, 219, 225 Communist Party (CP), 187, 206 Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). See also American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, 12, 13, 131–32, 139–43, 146–48, 150–52, 154, 156, 159–61, 226–27 Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), 94, 236, 249, 250 Cookman Institute, 4, 48, 166 Crow, Jim, ix, 21, 30, 32–33, 50, 61, 63, 79–80, 85–86, 88, 93, 95, 117, 124, 133, 135, 148, 151–52, 157–61, 193, 199, 215, 226, 228–29, 241, 248, 254 >> 279 

280  281 Meany, George, 15, 27, 229–30, 233, 236, 238, 244–45, 250, 252–53 Messenger, 5, 10, 12, 22, 27–28, 31, 34, 40, 42, 45, 53, 57, 59–61, 63–65, 67–70, 72–76, 83–86, 97, 106, 110, 113–14, 120, 123–27, 134, 149, 158–59, 165–68, 173, 213 Murray, Pauli, 146, 175, 188, 190, 194, 203, 215, 217, 219 Myers, E. Pauline, 98, 154, 164, 167, 175, 178, 192, 200–201, 217–19 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 24, 26, 33, 40, 50, 54, 58, 64, 67, 69, 76, 131, 135, 137, 145–46, 149, 153–55, 158, 160, 168, 176–77, 191, 198, 200–201, 203–5, 207, 211–13, 215, 217, 220, 222, 227, 229, 232–34, 236, 238, 241, 243–44, 250 National Council for a Permanent FEPC, 32, 37, 39, 41, 43, 89, 90, 92, 98, 175, 182, 184, 187, 193, 197, 199–200, 215–16, 219, 225, 235–37, 239–40, 247 National Council of Negro Women, 35, 169, 175, 184, 188, 194 National Industrial Recovery Act, 139 National Labor Relations Act, 195 National Negro Congress (NNC), 6, 12–13, 33, 39, 129–51, 154–61 National Organization for Women (NOW), 153, 241 National Urban League (NUL), 24, 33, 40, 236 Negro American Labor Council (NALC), x, xi, 8, 14, 15, 18, 27, 39, 223–26, 229–38, 240–44 “New Crowd” (see also “New Negro”), 34, 69 New Deal, 6–7, 12, 24, 29, 61, 96, 132, 134, 156, 170, 178, 192, 216, 224, 249 “New Negro” (see also “New Crowd”), 2, 132, 144, 167 New York Age, 138, 158

New York Amsterdam News, 146, 152, 158, 160–61 Nixon, E. D., 228 Ocean Hill–Brownsville, 9, 15, 18, 245–47, 253–69 Owen, Chandler, 5, 10, 27, 38, 40, 46, 50, 53, 57, 69, 166–67, 213 Palmer, A. Mitchell, 10, 46, 65 Parnham, Sallie, 211 Pittsburgh Courier, 22, 98, 106, 135, 153, 158–59, 161, 215, 217, 219, 221, 243–44 Poor People’s Campaign, 256 Powell, Adam Clayton, 152, 161, 202, 233–34 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 93, 99, 247 Pullman Company, 5–6, 10–11, 21–24, 30, 35–36, 40–41, 86, 101–2, 104–5, 108–12, 114, 119, 120–22, 124–25, 129, 135, 141, 158, 168, 264, 266 Pullman Porters Benefit Association (PPBA), 110, 121 Randolph, Asa (A.) Philip, ix–xii, 1–4, 20–21, 38, 41–45, 47–49, 51–52, 70–79, 81, 96–99, 101, 105–6, 108, 110, 122–27, 129, 132, 154, 157–63, 166, 190–91, 193, 195, 205, 215–20, 222, 223, 225, 230, 240–48, 250, 263, 267–69 Randolph, Elizabeth, 4, 47, 49, 80–82, 165–66, 172 Randolph, James William, 4, 47–49, 80–81, 165–66 respectability, 5, 12, 102–3, 107–8, 115, 117, 131, 144, 163, 165, 170, 173–75 Reuther, Walter, 157, 162, 229–30, 236–37, 242–43 Robinson, Cleveland, 226, 228–30, 235, 238, 240 Robinson, Dorothy, 226, 230, 240–41 Roosevelt, Eleanor, 146, 177, 184, 192