Asa Philip Randolph (April 15 1889 – May 16 1979) was a prominent twentieth century African-American civil rights leader and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was a huge achievement for labor and especially for African-American labor organizing.
Asa and his brother, James, were superior students. The Randolph brothers attended the Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville, for years the only academic high school for African Americans in Florida. Asa excelled in literature, drama and public speaking; he also starred on the school's baseball team, sang solos with its choir and was valedictorian of the 1907 graduating class.
After graduation, Randolph worked odd jobs and devoted his time to singing, acting and reading. W. E. B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk convinced him that the fight for social equality was more important than almost anything else. He moved to New York City in 1911 to become an actor but gave up after failing to win his parents' approval. Columbia University student Chandler Owen shared Randolph's intellectual interests and became his close collaborators.
In 1914, Randolph courted and married Mrs. Lucille E. Green, a widow, Howard University graduate and entrepreneur who shared his socialist politics and earned enough money to support them both. The couple had no children.
Shortly after Randolph's marriage, he helped organize the Shakespearean Society in Harlem and played the roles of Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo, among others. At the age of 21, Randolph joined the Socialist party of Eugene V. Debs. In response to increasing segregation and discrimination against blacks, Randolph shunned moderate reform and racial integration, as advocated by W. E. B. Du Bois, and emphasized instead socialism and trade unionism.
In 1917, Randolph founded and co-edited the Messenger, a radical monthly magazine, which campaigned against lynching, opposed U.S. participation in World War I, urged African Americans to resist being drafted to fight for a segregated society, and recommended that they join radical unions.
Randolph emerged as one of the most visible spokesmen for African-American civil rights. In 1941, he, Bayard Rustin, and A. J. Muste proposed a march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in war industries and to propose the desegregation of the American Armed forces. The march was cancelled after President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, or the Fair Employment Act. Some militants felt betrayed by the cancellation because Roosevelt's pronouncement only pertained to banning discrimination within industries and not the armed forces, however the fair employment Act is generally perceived as a success for African American rights. An example of the success this act induced is in the Philadelphia Transit Strike of 1944 where the government backed African American workers against White labour. In 1947, Randolph,along with colleague Grant Reynolds, formed the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service, later renamed the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience. President Harry S. Truman abolished racial segregation in the armed forces through Executive Order 9981 on July 26 1948.
Randolph was also notable in his support for restrictions on immigration. In 1950, along with Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, and Arnold Aronson, a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, Randolph founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). LCCR has since become the nation's premier civil rights coalition, and has coordinated the national legislative campaign on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.
Randolph was also responsible for the organisation of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 with the help of Rustin and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is often attributed in part to the success of the March on Washington, where Black and White Americans stood united and witnessed King's 'I have a dream speech'. As the U.S. civil rights movement gained momentum in the early 1960s and came to the forefront of the nation's consciousness, his rich baritone voice was often heard on television news programs addressing the nation on behalf of African-Americans engaged in the struggle for voting rights and an end to discrimination in public accommodations. He was also an active participant in many other organizations and causes, including the Workmen's Circle and others.