February is Black History Month, an annual national observance that highlights the power and impact of our Black community.
The Women’s and Fair Practices Departments is proud to uplift the voices of our Black Community thorough both our program and our representation work and we thank our members who have been allies in this line of work. The Labor Movement has excelled due to the great work, passion and advocacy of our Black community, and, it is our duty to stand in solidarity with our Black community members as our nation reconciles with its past and racially bias institutions.
In recognizing the power of Black communities, we proudly highlight the great work of A. Philip Randolph, a man who elevated the voices and needs of the Black community, progressed the Labor Movement, and made our union spaces ones dedicated to racial and community justice.
Randolph became the most widely known spokesperson for Black working-class interests in the country.
The March on Washington
In December 1940, with President Franklin Roosevelt refusing to issue an executive order banning discrimination against Black workers in the defense industry, Randolph called for "10,000 loyal Negro American citizens" to march on Washington, D.C. Support grew so quickly that soon he was calling for 100,000 marchers to converge on the capital.
Pressed to take action, President Roosevelt issued an executive order on June 25, 1941, six days before the march was to occur, declaring "there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin." Roosevelt also set up the Fair Employment Practices Commission to oversee the order.
Six years later, after the passage of the Selective Service Act of 1947, Randolph demanded that the government integrate the armed forces. He founded the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation and urged young men, both Black and white, to "refuse to cooperate with a Jim Crow conscription service." Threatened with widespread civil disobedience and needing the Black vote in his 1948 re-election campaign, President Harry Truman on July 26, 1948, ordered an end to military discrimination "as quickly as possible."
The March on Washington movement and Randolph's call for civil disobedience to end segregation in the armed forces helped convince the next generation of civil rights activists that nonviolent protests and mass demonstrations were the best way to mobilize public pressure. Randolph was, in this sense, the true "father of the civil rights movement" in the United States.
Leading the AFL-CIO
Randolph was elected a vice president of the newly merged AFL-CIO in 1955. He used his position to push for desegregation and respect for civil rights inside the labor movement as well as outside. He was one of the founders of the Negro American Labor Council and served as its president from 1960 to 1966. In 1964, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson.
In his honor and to organize and liberate Black trade unionists, the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), a constituency group under the AFL-CIO, was formed. APRI advocates for social, labor, and economic change at the state and federal level, using legal and legislative means. We highly encourage all our members to join their efforts and advocacy. You can learn more at apri.org.