Meet the 1963 March on Washington Organizers

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A.Philip Randolph Bayard Rustin Whitney Young Martin Luther King, Jr. Roy Wilkins James Farmer John Lewis Walter Reuther Eugene Carson Blake Mathew Ahmann Jachim Prinz

A. Philip Randolph
Founder, Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters

A. Philip Randolph in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

For A. Philip Randolph, the March on Washington had been over 20 years in the making; its success and the resulting passage of the Civil Rights Act were two of his major achievements.

Randolph became involved in the labor moment in 1912 when he founded an employment agency called the Brotherhood of Labor in New York City, and made his first efforts to unionize black workers. In 1925 he founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters after he witnessed how African-American porters were demeaned by white passengers who addressed them as “George” no matter what their actual names were, among other things. Randolph made it his mission to gain the union’s inclusion in the American Federation of Labor, which frequently barred African Americans from membership. He won this battle in 1937, making the BSCP the first officially recognized African-American union in the country.

In the 1940s Randolph turned his attention to racial discrimination in the defense industry. He threatened to organize a march on Washington to protest unfair labor practices, telling President Franklin D. Roosevelt that 100,000 black Americans were expected to attend the march. The President tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Randolph, but six days before the march was set to take place, FDR signed an executive order that made thousands of defense jobs available to African Americans. In 1948, using the same tactic, Randolph convinced President Truman to sign an executive order banning segregation in the military.

Because of his long history organizing black workers, by the time the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom took place Randolph was seen as the “elder statesman” of the Big Six. He was instrumental in organizing the event and in reassuring the federal government that the March would be orderly and peaceful. In his speech at the event, he spoke firmly about the nature of the March: “We are not a pressure group. … We are not a mob. We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom.”

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