A. Philip Randolph

Although many civil rights leaders focused on voting, education, and other governmental functions, A. Philip Randolph spent his long career as a labor leader working to bring more and better jobs to African Americans. After a long, successful battle to win representation for the nation's Pullman porters, Randolph was instrumental in the formation of the FEPC, which protected African Americans against job discrimination in the army and defense industries. In addition, Randolph co founded and edited socialist black magazine The Messenger.

The son of a minister, Randolph grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and graduated from the Cookman Institute in 1907. A lack of economic opportunity for blacks led Randolph, the class valedictorian, into a series of menial jobs until 1911, when he moved to New York City. Working as an elevator operator and living in Harlem, Randolph took classes at the City College of New York and New York University, acted in amateur theatricals, and eventually took a job with a Harlem employment agency.

In 1914 Randolph met Chandler Owen, whose progressive politics and interest in socialism matched his own. In 1917 the two founded The Messenger, whose editorials strongly opposed U.S. entry into World War I, saying that "no intelligent Negro is willing to lay down his life for the United States as it now exists." Though the magazine was never profitable, it was influential, offering a more radical voice than that of W. E. B. Du Bois's The Crisis or the even more conventional New York Age. The Messenger, with its advocacy of labor unions, was especially popular among Pullman porters, all of whom were black, who served white railroad passengers in luxurious sleeping cars. Founded just after the Civil War, the Pullman company had by the 1920s become the nation's single largest employer of African Americans. Many of the Pullman porters were college graduates who enjoyed great respect within their communities, but at work they were subjected to unfair and discriminatory practices.

In 1925, with Randolph at the helm, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) began organizing the nearly 10,000 porters. For ten years, Randolph kept the members unified and inspired, often in the face of intimidation and firings, while he negotiated with the president and Congress to amend the Railway Labor Act. Finally, in a hard-won victory hailed by African Americans and progressives nationwide, the company recognized their union in 1935.