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Reframing Randolph

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

Andrew E. Kersten
Clarence Lang
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1287jhz
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  • Book Info
    Reframing Randolph
    Book Description:

    At one time, Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979) was a household name. As president of the all-black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), he was an embodiment of America's multifaceted radical tradition, a leading spokesman for Black America, and a potent symbol of trade unionism and civil rights agitation for nearly half a century. But with the dissolution of the BSCP in the 1970s, the assaults waged against organized labor in the 1980s, and the overall silencing of labor history in U.S. popular discourse, he has been largely forgotten among large segments of the general public before whom he once loomed so large. Historians, however, have not only continued to focus on Randolph himself, but his role (either direct, or via his legacy) in a wide range of social, political, cultural, and even religious milieu and movements.

    The authors ofReframing Randolphhave taken Randolph's dusty portrait down from the wall to reexamine and reframe it, allowing scholars to regard him in new, and often competing, lights. This collection of essays gathers, for the very first time, many genres of perspectives on Randolph. Featuring both established and emergent intellectual voices, this project seeks to avoid both hagiography and blanket condemnation alike. The contributors represent the diverse ways that historians have approached the importance of his long and complex career in the main political, social, and cultural currents of twentieth-century African American specifically, and twentieth-century U.S. history overall. The central goal ofReframing Randolphis to achieve a combination of synthetic and critical reappraisal.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2447-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    ARLENE HOLT BAKER

    Reframing Randolphgives us a deeper understanding, appreciation, respect, and much needed critical analyses of the complexities of A. Phillip Randolph, who, through his oratory, his written words, and his organizing and mobilizing skills, was able to improve the working conditions and economic lives of African Americans and move America’s social and civil rights landscape closer to the promise of equality for all.

    These roads were sometimes straight, sometimes rocky, and sometimes narrow, but all of them led to the improvement of self, the improvement of the human condition, and the improvement of the working conditions for black workers in...

  4. 1 A Reintroduction to Asa Philip Randolph
    (pp. 1-20)
    ANDREW E. KERSTEN and CLARENCE LANG

    We’ve lost touch with Asa Philip Randolph (1889–1979). Nothing points to our collective disregard for him more than the predicament surrounding a statue bearing his likeness. For decades, a bronze rendition of Randolph stood watch over train travelers near the information desk at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. In a recent online story for theNew Republic, journalist Timothy Noah reported that this bronze memorial to one of the nation’s leading civil rights and labor rights heroes had been shoved into a corner close to the men’s room. “There was A. Philip Randolph,” wrote Noah, “pushed unceremoniously into a corner...

  5. 2 Researching Randolph: Shifting Historiographic Perspectives
    (pp. 21-44)
    JOE WILLIAM TROTTER JR.

    Formed in 1925, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) emerged as the most prominent symbol of the organized black labor movement during the twentieth century. Under the leadership of the civil rights, social justice, and labor activist Asa Philip Randolph, the BSCP organized black porters and maids at the Chicago-based Pullman Company, the largest single employer of blacks in the nation. Adopting the motto “Service not Servitude,” the organization not only pushed for wage increases and better working conditions and treatment for black porters, but also linked the porters’ struggle to the predominantly white labor movement and to the...

  6. 3 A. Philip Randolph: Emerging Socialist Radical
    (pp. 45-76)
    ERIC ARNESEN

    Settling permanently in New York in 1911, Asa Philip Randolph was but one among tens of thousands of African Americans who sought opportunity, freedom, and adventure beyond the stifling confines of the segregated South in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With a religious background, modest but solid education, and notable lack of material resources of any kind, he initially exhibited few distinguishing characteristics that would set him apart from other migrants of the pre–World War I era. Yet in a remarkably brief time, Randolph had earned a reputation as one of the leading “Negro Marxians” whose radicalism...

  7. 4 Keeping His Faith: A. Philip Randolph’s Working-Class Religion
    (pp. 77-100)
    CYNTHIA TAYLOR

    On A. Philip Randolph’s eightieth birthday, Bayard Rustin, his dear friend and comrade in the civil rights movement, recounted Randolph’s long life and many accomplishments for a local Chicago newspaper by beginning with his deep Southern religious roots as a son of a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in the 1890s. Rustin then traced his work as a Harlem journalist and magazine editor during World War I, followed by his triumphant years as president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) in the 1920s and 1930s, which led to his role in persuading President Franklin Roosevelt...

  8. 5 Brotherhood Men and Singing Slackers: A. Philip Randolph’s Rhetoric of Music and Manhood
    (pp. 101-128)
    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 union-negotiated contract. In Randolph’s words, Pullman service workers had to choose between living as “slacker porters” or rising up as “manly men”...

  9. 6 “The Spirit and Strategy of the United Front”: Randolph and the National Negro Congress, 1936–1940
    (pp. 129-162)
    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...

  10. 7 Organizing Gender: A. Philip Randolph and Women Activists
    (pp. 163-194)
    MELINDA CHATEAUVERT

    Asa Philip Randolph has been called an atheist, a socialist, and a racial integrationist. But he is best understood as an organizer.¹ Attempts to place him into a particular political philosophy cannot fully explain his success as a leader or his legacy. He spent his life working for causes he believed would free people from the cage of prejudice. Despite his many victories in the labor and civil rights movements, Randolph has been criticized for his failure to recognize women and his refusal to endorse legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in the workplace. These accusations of sexism, made by his former...

  11. 8 Beyond A. Philip Randolph: Grassroots Protest and the March on Washington Movement
    (pp. 195-222)
    DAVID LUCANDER

    The protest scheduled for July 1, 1941, was set to be one of the most memorable days in African American history, but that was not to be. Instead of the one hundred thousand protestors that March on Washington Movement (MOWM) leader A. Philip Randolph promised would gather in the capital, business was carried on as usual in Washington, D.C., that day.¹ The event had effectively been called off, creating what one historian labeled “the most famous demonstration that never happened,” but what really mattered was that so many people gravitated towards Randolph’s plan to assemble at the Lincoln Memorial to...

  12. 9 The “Void at the Center of the Story”: The Negro American Labor Council and the Long Civil Rights Movement
    (pp. 223-244)
    WILLIAM P. JONES

    On May 28, 1960, at the age of seventy-one, A. Philip Randolph opened the founding convention of what would be his most successful organization outside the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the union that he had led since 1925. Randolph and over a thousand other black trade unionists created the Negro American Labor Council (NALC) to coordinate a nationwide campaign against racial discrimination and segregation in the nation’s largest federation of unions, the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), but they viewed that battle as a critical component to the broader “civil rights revolution” that was “sweeping...

  13. 10 No Exit: A. Philip Randolph and the Ocean Hill–Brownsville Crisis
    (pp. 245-270)
    JERALD PODAIR

    Labor rights and civil rights were the two great causes of A. Philip Randolph’s life. He pursued them over the course of an activist career that began during the eras of Booker T. Washington and Samuel Gompers and did not end until those of George Meany and Jesse Jackson. Throughout, Randolph held steadfastly to the principle that the impulses for racial and economic justice in the United States were convergent and mutually reinforcing. Black workers could achieve security and dignity only through the power of a union. Labor required the moral power of the civil rights movement to realize its...

  14. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 271-274)
  15. ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 275-278)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 279-282)