A. Philip Randolph Evaluated

Book Review: Kersten, Andrew E, and Lang, Clarence, Editors: “Reframing Randolph. Labor, Black Freedom, and the Legacies of A. Philip Randolph.” New York University Press, 2015.

randolph-quote

I got this book from Oak Cliff Branch of Dallas Public Library.

Asa Philip Randolph is glorified and criticized in the essays collected here. Whether they appreciated him or not, all the writers agreed that he had a profound effect on American civil rights.

I started a sort of timeline:

  • 1898: born
  • 1920s: Street corner orator and co-editor of “The Messenger”
  • 1925: Newly organized Pullman Porters ask him to take over as President. Black Sleeping Car Porters and Maids formed
  • 1935 or so: finally gets a contract from Pullman. Drops “and maids” and joins the American Federation of Labor (AFL) Within it, he argues for anti-discrimination policies until the end of his career
  • 1941: With threat of March on Washington Movement (MOWM), gets Executive Order 8088 (? Forgot the number) outlawing racial discrimination in war industries. Not nearly as much as was demanded, but Randolph calls off the march and is covered with glory for having “forced” the President of the United States to acknowledge the federal government’s role in overcoming racial discrimination. Federal Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) is formed and the MOWM people try to enforce it with marches and pickets throughout the war.
  • 1936: Formation of National Negro Congress. He serves 1 term as president and then resigns as he feels the organization is communist dominated
  • 1960 or so: He is President of the National African Labor Congress NALC
  • 1963: he and Bayard Rustin organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. They cooperated with MLK on it. Of course, MLK stole the show.
  • 1965: he is honored with formation of A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI). Chapters are formed in every Central Labor Council and endure today
  • 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict between community oriented school board and the United Federation of Teachers. Randolph sided with labor leader Al Shanker and took heat for it
  • 1972: Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) formed as NALC fades away
  • 1974: African American women from Randolph movements start the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)

I was left with the impression that Randolph successfully, eventually, got the AFL to be less racist. The CIO, of course, probably had a bigger effect. Randolph got the federal government on the right track. I think he was a consistent social – democrat, even though the various writers seem to think he wavered this way and that. I think any wavering he did came from trying to fit the civil rights movement into the AFL. Like the social-democrats of today, Randolph looked at the working class. He analyzed it and pushed for its success. Like the social-democrats of today, he did not analyze the obstructionist class and devise ways of overcoming them once and for all.

On the downside, the book accuses him of outright sexism in dealing with women’s politics. They also criticize his rabid anti-communism as unnecessarily divisive. If he read the book today and were asked to comment, I’m sure he would say that those who cannot compromise aren’t going to get anything done in contemporary politics.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. Click here if you want to know what I really think!

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