Gentle Warrior: A. Philip Randolph (1889 1979)

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Gentle Warrior: A. Philip Randolph (1889 - 1979)

  • He was called the most dangerous black in America.

  • He led 250,000 people in the historic 1963 March on Washington.

  • He spoke for all the dispossessed: Blacks, poor Whites, Puerto Ricans, Indians and Mexican Americans.

  • He attained for Black workers their rightful at in the house of Labor.

  • He won the fight to ban discrimination in the armed forces.

  • He organized the 1957-prayer pilgrimage for the civil rights bill.

  • He was President of the Institute, bearing his name, and President Emeritus of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the union he built.

The words and deeds of A. Philip Randolph show us the unyielding strength of his life-long struggle for full human rights for the Blacks and all the disinherited of the nation. In his cry for freedom and justice, Mr. Randolph is echoing the fury of all the enslaved. They are fighting for their freedom, with the kind of desperate strength that only deep wounds can call forth. With none of his words, however, does Mr. Randolph turn aside the help of others. But these comrades-in-arms must share the vision that has led Mr. Randolph through his long years of search for equal human rights. From the day of his arrival in Harlem in 1911, Mr. Randolph had been in the thick of the struggle for freedom for Black Americans.

The civil rights revolution, which began in the 1950’s, was a result of his efforts and the work of men like himself. Even when he had become an ''elder statesmen" his passion for justice remained as youthful and vigorous as ever. He still planned and organized such activities as the 1957 prayer pilgrimage for the civil rights bill, the 1958 and 1959 marches for school integration and the 1963 March on Washington. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 are all the fruits of the seed he and his co-workers sowed many years before A. Philip Randolph has always called for jobs and money as being the passports to human rights. At the same time, he did not let himself be led astray by the impractical economic promises of a man like Marcus Garvey, who called for a "return to Africa" back in the 1920’s. As a man living in the bread-and-butter world, Mr. Randolph knew that a good weekly paycheck had to be won first. Then, after the children were fed, a better fight could be waged for dignity and self-pride.

With this always in mind, Mr. Randolph traveled throughout the nation just before World War II, in 1940 and 1941. His mission was to unite Blacks against the discrimination, which shut them out of well-paying jobs in the factories. Although many Whites, and even Blacks knocked his efforts in the beginning his message caught fire. All over the United States committees of Blacks were forming to "March on Washington" in protest. Influential people tried to turn Mr. Randolph away from his goal, but he remained strong and steadfast. Finally, recognizing that Mr. Randolph could not be swayed, President Franklin D Roosevelt signed an order, six months before Pearl Harbor, in June 1941, which called for an end to discrimination in defense plant jobs. Here was the beginning of "fair employment practices " This, the first "March on Washington," never had to be held. The most powerful leader in the world, the President of the United States, had yielded to the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. From this start have come all of the many laws trying to guarantee a fair and equal chance to all Blacks looking for jobs About seven years later, in July of 1948, Mr. Randolph again moved to fight discrimination. This time, it was against segregation and Jim Crow in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Once more, the power of his persuasion and the justice of his complaints swayed another President of the United States, Harry S. Truman. President Truman signed an order commanding that there would be an end to this kind of discrimination not only in the armed forces, but also in federal civil service jobs. In 1963, another high point in Mr. Randolph's struggle for equality for oppressed people was reached when he headed the famous "March on Washington,'' in which more than 250.000 Americans joined together under the slogan of "Jobs and Freedom." Still relentlessly pressing for full economic freedom, Mr. Randolph then presented, in 1966, the Freedom Budget to the nation. This called for the spending of $185 billion over ten years by the U.S. government to fight against poverty, "The labor movement traditionally has been the only haven for the dispossessed, the despised, the neglected, the downtrodden and the poor." So spoke A. Philip Randolph from the convention floor of the AFL-CIO. And so believed A. Philip Randolph all his life long. It was this belief that sustained his spirit through the long, long, bitter years when he was the voice crying in the wilderness. It was this belief that enabled him to go on with the uphill fight for racial equality and opportunity for all Americans.

The story of Randolph the labor leader is the story of many beginnings, a tale of many defeats and many victories. Even in defeat he sowed the seed that afterwards blossomed and bore fruit-for Black workers and White workers alike. By the early 1920's, Mr. Randolph could look back upon ''a career of glorious failures," as one writer put it. He had run for Assembly twice and Comptroller once and lost each time. As far as organizing Blacks went, he had been at it from his first days in Harlem, but had little to show for his efforts. He began to come into his own when a group of Pullman porters came to him for help. The porters wanted the right to bargain for better wages and improvements in working conditions. They wanted a chance to run their own affairs. After a number of secret meetings, the organization of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was announced at Elks Hall on August 25.1925. But it was going to be a long and tough fight to get the powerful Pullman Company to sit down and bargain with the workers. It took all of 12 years. The odds against the newly born union were huge. The company used all of its strength in attacking Mr. Randolph, calling him a Bolshevik and accusing him of being a hustler out for a fast buck. Pullman fired union members. It tried to put fear into the men by threatening them with tougher assignments, fewer assignments, or no work at all. The law also failed the Brotherhood. Mediation failed, so did arbitration. And when the men prepared for a strike as a last resort, the company recruited strikebreakers and private police. At the last moment, the strike was called off.

The leadership of the union decided that the Brotherhood was simply not strong enough to win at that time. Now began the struggle to keep the organization together without funds, without much support from the outside, and in the midst of a depression. Mr. Randolph would travel to Chicago on Brotherhood business and have only a one-way train ticket in his pocket. But somehow he survived and his message with him Wherever he went, Mr. Randolph had one important sermon for the porters. They were Black men who were being called upon to prove that "Black men are able to measure up." And the men never forgot that message and in the end it won for them. By 1935, not only had the Brotherhood survived, but also it had won an election supervised, by the National Mediation Board. The same year, the American Federation of Labor reversed its previous position and voted to grant an international charter to the Brotherhood It took two more years of negotiations but finally the Pullman Company signed a contract. This was more than a victory for better wages and working conditions. As one scholar wrote "A small band of brothers—Black— had stood together and won against a corporation that had said it would never sit down and negotiate with porters."

In 1936, A. Philip Randolph was drafted presidency of a new organization called the National Negro Congress. The NNC was made up of a number of groups, which planned to build a Black mass movement, by working with and through trade unions. Although the NNC was successful in a number of organization drives led by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), when Mr. Randolph realized he had come under Communist control, he quit. He was attacked by the Communists as a traitor because he refused to support a stand against aid to the enemies of Hitler at the time of the Nazi-Soviet Russia pact. But when the Germans turned around and invaded Russia, he was again attacked by the Communist, this time for refusing to help the Soviet Union. Throughout the hard years of struggle to obtain dignity and decent treatment for porters, Mr. Randolph forgot that there were other workers that also needed help. As one observer wrote ''He became a familiar and lonely figure on the floor of AFL-ClO conventions" to his role as champion of the underdog. He was conscience of organized labor in seeking to get the trade union to set its own house in order and to remove the last remnants of racial discrimination from ranks of the AFL-CIO. He spoke for all other dispossessed , Mexicans Americans, Indians, Puerto Ricans, and poor Whites alike. He helped to draft ''the strongest statement of labor's position on our rights ever to come before a convention of the AFL-CIO. This resolution put organized labor in "a front line role in the civil rights revolution."

A. Philip Randolph's chosen home is the labor movement—which he believes is the real home of all working men. In 1955 he became a vice-president of the AFL-CIO's Executive Council. and in 1959 he helped to found the Negro American Labor Council. The NALC's job is to present Black workers' demands to the labor movement and to do what Mr. Randolph has always tried to do— keep the Black people and organized labor together and working for common goals. A. Philip Randolph, the labor leader, is also a dreamer of dreams He has tried to put flesh and bones on his dreams by working for a labor movement that would be free of all prejudice and which would play a key role in changing society for the better. It is that dream that has made A. Philip Randolph one of the giants of the American labor movement. At the heart of A. Philip Randolph's vision as a socialist is his belief that a decent and well-paying job is the first step towards social and political freedom. Therefore, while he supported the needs of Blacks as Blacks, Mr. Randolph also maintained that those who are poor, or earn little money whether they are Black or White have basic interests in common, and that they should join together. As a socialist, Mr. Randolph believes that workers and their labor unions are the key forces in any political effort to redistribute society's wealth more justly. Mr. Randolph has continuously advised Black people to develop political alliances with other groups labor, liberal and civil rights groups—to fight for common aims.

Mr. Randolph has never abandoned those principles that have given his outlook qualities of depth and honor. He is a firm believer in both integration and non-violence. As an integrationist he opposed the "Back-to-Africa" movement of Marcus Garvey in the 1920's, as he has opposed the separatist beliefs of the "Black Power" advocates of today. At the same time, Mr. Randolph has rejected violence as a tactic of struggle, on both moral and practical grounds. A. Philip Randolph has not seen the problem of Black people in America as the problem of one isolated group. He views the condition of American Blacks as the symptom of a larger social illness, an illness which is caused by an unfair distribution of power, wealth, and resources. For the socialist ideals on which his political wisdom is built, Mr. Randolph looked to the giants of American socialism—Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas. The agent for spreading Mr. Randolph's socialism was a magazine called the MESSENGER, founded in 1917, "the only magazine of scientific radicalism in the world published by Negroes." He co-edited the magazine with Chandler Owen, a fellow socialist who came to be Mr. Randolph's closest friend. Though both men were well aware that many unions and many socialists discriminated, they continued in their conviction that only through the organization of the workers into unions could society be changed. Mr. Randolph and Mr. Owen outlined the purpose of their socialist publication in an early editorial, saying: "The history of the labor movement in America proves that the employing classes recognize no race lines, They will exploit a White man as readily as a Black man . . . they will exploit any race or class in order to make profits. "The combination of Black and White workers will be a powerful lesson to the capitalists of the solidarity of labor. It will show that labor, Black and White, is conscious of its interests and power. This will prove that unions are not based upon race lines, but upon class lines. This will serve to convert a class of workers, which has been used by the capitalist class to defeat organized labor, into an ardent, class conscious, intelligent, militant group."

Though Mr. Randolph was an integrationist, he believed that organizations which had come into existence to wage the Black and working class struggle, ought to be headed by the leaders from those groups. He disagreed with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader W.E.B. DuBois' claim that a "talented tenth" of the race would pave the way for its entry into society. The gap between Mr. Randolph and Mr. DuBois widened when, during World War 1, Mr. DuBois called on Blacks to "close ranks," put aside their grievances, and support the war. Mr. Randolph was definitely opposed to the war. He believed that the American idea of ''making the world safe for democracy'' was outright falsity, and "a tremendous offense to the intelligence of the Blacks because at that time the Blacks were being lynched and denied the right to vote, in the South especially, and were the victims of segregation and discrimination all over the nation." The MESSENGER repeatedly stressed the anti-war stand of its editor’s and, as a result, the U.S. Justice Department kept a close watch on Mr. Randolph and Mr. Owen. Finally, they were jailed in Cleveland on charges of treason. They managed to get out under the custody of Seymour Stedman, a socialist lawyer, and they promptly continued their public protest against the war. World War I ended just one day before Mr. Randolph was scheduled to leave for war himself as a new draftee.

As a socialist associated with radical, leftwing causes. Mr. Randolph was subject to pressures from other radical groups, including the Communists. When a split struck the Socialist Party in 1919, over the question of whether or not to support the Bolsheviks in their leadership of the Russian Revolution, Mr. Randolph and Mr. Owen stayed with the non-Communist faction of the party. When the Communists began to concern themselves with the issue of Blacks in the labor movement, Mr. Randolph had already begun his organization of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The Communists were so jealous of Mr. Randolph's effort, they took pains to prevent mentioning him in their publications. A. Philip Randolph's position, whether an attitude toward labor unions, an anti-war stand, or a political position with an aim of economic change, has consistently reflected his socialist ideas. He has always believed in a movement based on the workers as the main force, and has always been committed to the idea that a democratic redistribution of wealth is the first step toward greater freedom for all people, Black as well as White.

A. Philip Randolph

Born April 15, 1889

Crescent City, Florida

Died May 16, 1979

New York, New York

Labor and civil rights leader

During World War II (1939–45), A. Philip Randolph fought racial discrimination in war industries and the armed services. His efforts built a foundation for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. A. Philip Randolph was one of the most influential black American leaders of the twentieth century.

Early life

A. Philip Randolph was born on April 15, 1889, the second of two sons born to a poor family in Crescent City, Florida. His father, an itinerant minister who traveled about the area to various small rural churches, also worked as a tailor to provide for his family. The Randolph family emphasized religion and education. In 1903 Randolph attended Cookman Institute, an all-black male Methodist school, where he excelled. In addition to being a good athlete, he showed particular skill at drama, public speaking, singing, and literature. Randolph graduated in 1907 at the top of his class. Following graduation, Randolph worked at odd jobs in Jacksonville, Florida, while giving public readings, singing, and acting in plays. In search of better job opportunities and less racial discrimination in the North, in April 1911 Randolph joined the great migration of Southern blacks moving to the North. Randolph headed to Harlem in New York City, where he held various jobs including waiter, porter, and elevator operator. He also joined a theater club where he tackled Shakespearean plays. Through these parts, Randolph developed public speaking skills that would benefit him through much of his life. Randolph married a fellow theater club member in November 1914. They would have no children.

Seeking to establish a more stable career, Randolph abandoned acting and enrolled in City College of New York. The college offered a free education for those with strong academic skills. At college, Randolph became interested in politics and organized his own political group, the Independent Political Council.

Political activism

In New York, Randolph met Chandler Owen (1889–1967), a student at Columbia Law School. They were attracted to the growing labor union activity in the United States that was seeking improved working conditions, such as a forty-hour workweek. Union activity was considered a radical movement in the 1910s. They also joined the Socialist Party in late 1916. The party promoted the rights of individual citizens over dominance of big business. Randolph and Owen often stood on street corners in Harlem promoting the ideas of socialism and calling for blacks to join unions. Yet to most blacks, socialism and unions represented a white man's world with little relevance to them.

In 1917 Randolph organized a union of elevator operators. He and Owen were also hired to publish Hotel Messenger, a newsletter for the Headwaiters and Sidewaiters Society of Greater New York. However, their positions on labor issues were too radical for the organization, and after only eight months, Randolph and Owen were fired. They created their own magazine simply called the Messenger, in November 1917. Published until 1928, the Messenger became a highly respected black journal attracting some twenty-six thousand readers. In the Messenger Randolph and Owen expressed many controversial views, even leading to their brief arrest for expressing antiwar views in 1918 during World War I (1914–18). Their activity continued to expand. They organized the first black socialist organization in Harlem, the Friends of Negro Freedom, and unsuccessfully ran for local public offices.

Union leader

During the economic boom years of the 1920s, Randolph's radical political efforts lost their following. His attempts to organize black workers had limited success. However, in 1925 a group of porters invited Randolph to speak about trade unions. The Pullman Company employed the porters to provide services to railroad passengers. The porters asked Randolph to organize a union for them. On August 25, 1925, Randolph introduced The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters at a mass meeting.

The Brotherhood soon rose in power as Randolph proved a very effective leader. In 1928 it was accepted into the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a national federation of labor unions representing various types of skilled craft workers. The arrival of the Great Depression (1929–41) in late 1929, however, set back the unions' effectiveness until 1933 when newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) signed into law legislation formally recognizing organized labor unions. In 1935 the Brotherhood became the first black union to gain formal recognition by industry. By 1937 it reached an agreement with Pullman over working conditions. The agreement brought an additional two million dollars in wages to the porters and greatly increased Randolph's national prestige.

In addition to his union activity, Randolph continued to press for social change, including racial equality for black Americans through economic progress. In 1935 Randolph became the first president of the newly created National Negro Congress (NNC). The NNC was a national organization designed to coordinate all existing black political groups in an effort to improve the economic condition of black America.

Wartime opportunities

In 1940 almost thirteen million black Americans lived in the United States. The mobilization of industry for war production beginning that year presented a new opportunity for economic improvement of black Americans. In addition, the Democratic Party pledged during the 1940 presidential campaign to work for civil rights in order to maintain the large black vote President Roosevelt received in 1936. However, disappointment soon returned. As industry began increasing its workers, the actual percentage of black workers in industry declined. Many industries sought only white workers.

Randolph and other black leaders decided it was time to take action, including public protests and mass demonstrations. In January 1941 Randolph called for a national march on Washington. In May plans were set for at least ten thousand black Americans to march on July 1. At the time, Roosevelt was trying to build national unity for the upcoming war effort. His predecessor, President Herbert Hoover (1874–1964; served 1929–33), experienced a public relations disaster in 1932 when thousands of World War I veterans marched on Washington wanting advanced payment of pay bonuses. The last thing Roosevelt wanted was another embarrassing march on Washington.

Yet Roosevelt on June 18 nominated Southern U.S. senator James F. Byrnes (1879–1972; see entry) to the Supreme Court despite strong protests from Randolph and others. The nomination further strained relations between the president and black leaders. Six days later Roosevelt met with Randolph and other black leaders, including Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to resolve their grievances so that the march could be called off. In the meeting were several governmental leaders besides Roosevelt, including secretary of war Henry L. Stimson (1867–1950; see entry). Roosevelt knew Randolph had the ability to stage the largest demonstration by black Americans in the nation's history. Randolph demanded an executive order from Roosevelt banning racial discrimination in hiring by war industries and integrating the armed forces. Roosevelt agreed to ban discrimination in war industries, but, with advice from Stimson, not to integrate the military. On the

Fair Employment Practices Committee

The Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) was formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) under pressure from black American leader A. Philip Randolph to ensure that the U.S. war industries did not discriminate in hiring workers. The FEPC bounced from agency to agency for its first two years. It began in 1941 in the Office of Production Management (OPM), then to the War Production Board (WPB), and on to the War Manpower Commission (WMC). Finally, in March 1943, Roosevelt placed the FEPC within the White House as part of the Office of Emergency Planning. U.S. senator James F. Byrnes (1879–1972), who was no friend of racial integration, assumed control over it. However, Byrnes directed most business related to the FEPC to another White House assistant, Jonathan Daniels (1902–1981). Daniels was Roosevelt's assistant on racial matters.

The FEPC held a series of public hearings in Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; Birmingham, Alabama; and New York City documenting instances of discrimination against blacks, Jews, and Mexican Americans in war industry hiring. Southerners accused the FEPC of spreading racial strife. As controversy increased, the administration called a halt to the hearings. By mid-1943 the FEPC was one of the most controversial agencies in wartime Washington. Southern Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives opened hearings in 1944 to investigate certain agencies, with the FEPC being the first. It even became a major domestic campaign issue for the 1944 presidential elections.

Despite its limited powers, the FEPC served as a forum where black Americans could be heard and bring their work-related issues forward. The FEPC was abolished by Congress following the war, when military contracts to industry wound down.

following day, June 25, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 requiring that all government contracts contain conditions prohibiting racial discrimination in the workplace. To carry out the plan, the order also created the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) with members appointed by the president. Randolph called off the march. It was a major victory for him. The executive order was the first major action by a U.S. president regarding equal rights since the 1870s, just after the American Civil War (1861–65). The executive order was also an affirmative action plan that preceded the 1960s affirmative action programs.

Controversy builds

The FEPC became one of the hottest controversies on the U.S. home front during the war. During the summer of 1943 a series of race riots occurred around the country. One of the earliest outbreaks resulted from an FEPC order directing the Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company to promote some black Americans to skilled welding positions. White workers protested, leading to fights between segregated white and black work crews. Some eighty workers were injured before the Alabama National Guard restored order. Riots also occurred in Beaumont, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Harlem. The worst riot occurred on Sunday, June 20, in Detroit, Michigan. The FEPC claimed the main cause for the racial unrest was poor housing, recreation facilities, and public transportation available for minorities. However, others blamed the FEPC and its rulings for stirring up trouble. With progress in relieving racial discrimination largely nonexistent in 1943, Randolph again began threatening another march. He wanted Congress to make the FEPC a permanent agency with more stable funding and greater authority to enforce actions.

With the 1944 presidential election campaign approaching, Roosevelt had not yet given the FEPC his personal support. Southern Democrats were angry that he had gone too far. Black Americans, including Randolph, believed Roosevelt was far less supportive than he should be as the nation's leader. To resolve the matter, on November 4, 1943, Roosevelt voiced strong support for the FEPC, claiming its decisions were mandatory.

Nonetheless, Randolph, along with White and others, persisted with pressure. They signed a large newspaper advertisement calling for legislation creating a permanent FEPC. The black leaders were able to block James F. Byrnes from becoming Roosevelt's vice presidential running mate. Roosevelt won the unprecedented reelection to a fourth term partly owing to the black American vote he once again received.

A lasting influence

Following the war, Randolph pressed again to end segregation in the armed forces. He formed the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation.

Needing the black vote in the 1948 presidential election, President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) signed a presidential order ending racial segregation in the military in July 1948. It marked yet another major victory for Randolph.

In 1955 the AFL combined with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), a national union organization composed of semiskilled factory workers. Randolph was one of two blacks on the new AFL-CIO Executive Committee.

By the 1960s Randolph was widely recognized as an elder statesman of black America. Through World War II Randolph paved the way for the later civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s led by Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). One of Randolph's biggest moments came on August 28, 1963, at seventy-four years of age. He was national director of the march on Washington, D.C., in which over two hundred thousand black and white Americans participated, seeking an end to racial discrimination. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Randolph delivered his last major public speech. He was followed at the podium by King, who delivered his epic "I Have a Dream" civil rights speech. As in 1941, the president—this time President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63)—had tried to convince Randolph to call off the event. Although Randolph's wife died only three months before the march, Randolph decided the march must go on.

Much progress was realized after the historic march on Washington. The AFL-CIO adopted a strong national position in favor of the civil rights movement and lobbied for legislation prohibiting racial discrimination in the workplace. In 1964 Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act banning racial discrimination in public places. Also in 1964 Randolph established the A. Philip Randolph Institute to solve black labor issues and maintain ties between labor organizations and civil rights groups.

In 1968 Randolph was robbed and beaten outside his Harlem apartment building. Afterwards his health declined, leading him to resign as president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and from other labor positions. In 1971 Harvard University awarded Randolph an honorary degree. He died at the age of ninety in New York City on May 16, 1979. Randolph is remembered as a man of great integrity by both blacks and whites. In 1989 the U.S. Postal Service issued a Black Heritage Month stamp sporting his likeness.

Martin Luther King Jr

During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December, 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. Dr. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history.

Drawing inspiration from both his Christian faith and the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King led a nonviolent movement in the late 1950’s and ‘60s to achieve legal equality for African-Americans in the United States. While others were advocating for freedom by “any means necessary,” including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly-impossible goals. He went on to lead similar campaigns against poverty and international conflict, always maintaining fidelity to his principles that men and women everywhere, regardless of color or creed, are equal members of the human family.

Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Nobel Peace Prize lecture and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” are among the most revered orations and writings in the English language. His accomplishments are now taught to American children of all races, and his teachings are studied by scholars and students worldwide. He is the only non-president to have a national holiday dedicated in his honor, and is the only non-president memorialized on the Great Mall in the nation’s capitol. He is memorialized in hundreds of statues, parks, streets, squares, churches and other public facilities around the world as a leader whose teachings are increasingly-relevant to the progress of humankind.

Some of Dr. King’s most important achievements include:

  • In 1955, he was recruited to serve as spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was a campaign by the African-American population of Montgomery, Alabama to force integration of the city’s bus lines. After 381 days of nearly universal participation by citizens of the black community, many of whom had to walk miles to work each day as a result, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in transportation was unconstitutional.

  • In 1957, Dr. King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization designed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. He would serve as head of the SCLC until his assassination in 1968, a period during which he would emerge as the most important social leader of the modern American civil rights movement.

  • In 1963, he led a coalition of numerous civil rights groups in a nonviolent campaign aimed at Birmingham, Alabama, which at the time was described as the “most segregated city in America.” The subsequent brutality of the city’s police, illustrated most vividly by television images of young blacks being assaulted by dogs and water hoses, led to a national outrage resulting in a push for unprecedented civil rights legislation. It was during this campaign that Dr. King drafted the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the manifesto of Dr. King’s philosophy and tactics, which is today required-reading in universities worldwide.

  • Later in 1963, Dr. King was one of the driving forces behind the March for Jobs and Freedom, more commonly known as the “March on Washington,” which drew over a quarter-million people to the national mall. It was at this march that Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which cemented his status as a social change leader and helped inspire the nation to act on civil rights. Dr. King was later named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.”

  • In 1964, at 35 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. His acceptance speech in Oslo is thought by many to be among the most powerful remarks ever delivered at the event, climaxing at one point with the oft-quoted phrase “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

  • Also in 1964, partly due to the March on Washington, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, essentially eliminating legalized racial segregation in the United States. The legislation made it illegal to discriminate against blacks or other minorities in hiring, public accommodations, education or transportation, areas which at the time were still very segregated in many places.

  • The next year, 1965, Congress went on to pass the Voting Rights Act, which was an equally-important set of laws that eliminated the remaining barriers to voting for African-Americans, who in some locales had been almost completely disenfranchised. This legislation resulted directly from the Selma to Montgomery, AL March for Voting Rights lead by Dr. King.

  • Between 1965 and 1968, Dr. King shifted his focus toward economic justice – which he highlighted by leading several campaigns in Chicago, Illinois – and international peace – which he championed by speaking out strongly against the Vietnam War. His work in these years culminated in the “Poor Peoples Campaign,” which was a broad effort to assemble a multiracial coalition of impoverished Americans who would advocate for economic change.

  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s less than thirteen years of nonviolent leadership ended abruptly and tragically on April 4th, 1968, when he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King’s body was returned to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, where his funeral ceremony was attended by high-level leaders of all races and political stripes.

  • For more information regarding the assassination trial of Dr. King. Click here.

  • For more information regarding the Transcription of the King Family Press Conference on the MLK Assassination Trial Verdict December 9, 1999 Atlanta, GA. Click Here

  • For more information regarding the Civil Case: King family versus Jowers. Click here. 

  • Later in 1968, Dr. King’s wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, officially founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which she dedicated to being a “living memorial” aimed at continuing Dr. King’s work on important social ills around the world.

  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is considered the formative figure in the modern fight for civil rights, and his legacy looms large in the work of all those who follow him in his cause. Dr. King's involvement with the NAACP dates back to his position on the executive committee of the NAACP Montgomery Branch in the 1950's, through his leadership in the various boycotts, marches and rallies of the 1960's, and up until his assassination in 1968. In 1957 the NAACP awarded him the Spingarn Medal, its most prestigious honor. In 1964, he received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Dr. King pushed America to fulfill its promise of equal rights for all. We honor his life and his legacy by recommitting ourselves to keeping his dream alive.

  • “I have come to see more and more that one of the most decisive steps that the Negro can take is that little walk to the voting booth. That is an important step. We've got to gain the ballot, and through that gain, political power.”

  • - NAACP Emancipation Day Rally, January 1, 1957

  • Dr. King was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. As a child he never failed to ask discerning questions about the world around him. Though his father was a reverend, King initially had many doubts about the Christian religion, and it was only after years of schooling that he became convinced that religion could be both “intellectually and emotionally satisfying.” (Source: King graduated at the top of his class from Morehouse College and moved on to Boston University where he earned his Ph.D. in systematic theology.

  • In June 1953 King married Coretta Scott, a student at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. The following year King, now finished with his religious education, followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a pastor for the Drexel Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

  • “We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience... But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.”

  • - Montgomery, Alabama, December 5, 1955

  • When King arrived in Montgomery he saw a city that was highly segregated. One of the “Jim Crow” laws required the first four rows on public buses to be reserved for white people, while “colored” riders had to sit in the back of the bus. On December 1, 1955, barely a year after King's arrival, the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP refused to move from her seat in the front of the bus. Rosa Parks was arrested and sent to jail, but her act of defiance inspired the burgeoning civil rights movement in Montgomery. The Montgomery Improvement Association was formed with the NAACP Executive Committee and officers of the Montgomery NAACP, which had at that point been banned in the state. The Association led a boycott of the bus system, and King, already a member of the NAACP's executive committee, was chosen as its leader.

  • The boycott lasted for over a year, during which time King was threatened, arrested and even had his house bombed. However, by December 1956 the MIA had won a clear victory – the United States District Court ruled in Browder v. Gayle that racial segregation on buses was unconstitutional.

  • “The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.”

  • - The Power of Nonviolence, 1957

  • Emboldened by his success in Montgomery and a rise to national prominence, in 1957 King joined other civil rights activists to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King was elected president. Inspired by the ideals of nonviolence espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, he promoted civil disobedience as the best method to fight for civil rights. The SCLC led sit-ins and marches for various local causes, all with the aim to end segregation and disenfranchisement of black voters. Though the protesters did their best to remain peaceful, they were occasionally met with violence from authorities, and King was arrested multiple times. Throughout this, King's profile continued to grow.

  • “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

  • - Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963

  • King was arrested during a rally in Birmingham that sought to end segregation at lunch counters. While in jail he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, which defended his views on racial justice and nonviolence. It was considered the “manifesto” of the civil rights movement (Source: and further inspired black Americans to join the cause. At this point King was one of the national leaders of a movement that was rapidly growing across the nation, and in 1963 King joined with other leaders to capitalize on the moment with an enormous rally for civil rights.

  • "In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men - yes, black men as well as white men - would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'"

  • - “I Have a Dream”, August 28, 1963

  • The historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a collaborative effort by the major civil rights groups and icons of the day, including A. Phillip Randolph, the renowned labor leader who originally conceived of such a march, and Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP. Feeding off of a rapidly growing tide of grassroots support and outrage over the nation's racial inequities, the rally drew over 260,000 people from across the nation. King's celebrated speech, “I Have a Dream”, was carried live by television stations across the country. “I Have a Dream” is remembered as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, speech of the 20th century.

  • “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

  • - “I Have a Dream”, August 28, 1963

  • It didn't take long for King's dream to come to fruition. After a decade of continued lobbying of Congress and the President led by the NAACP, plus other peaceful protests for civil rights, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One year later, he signed the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. Together, these laws outlawed discrimination against blacks and women, effectively ending segregation, and sought to end disenfranchisement by making discriminatory voting practices illegal. Ten years after King joined the civil rights fight, the campaign to secure the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act had achieved its goal - to ensure that black citizens would have the power to represent themselves in government.

  • "They told us we wouldn't get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies. But all the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama saying, 'We ain't goin' let nobody turn us around.'"

  • - “Our God is Marching On!”, March 25, 1965

  • Of course, the fight was not over. Over the next few years King continued to lead marches and rallies across the country. In 1965 King helped organize three marches to the Alabama state capitol to protest continued voting rights violations. The first march ended in violence, as police used tear gas and billy clubs against the peaceful protestors. Undeterred by “Bloody Sunday”, the activists marched twice more and finally reached the capitol in an emotional validation of their rights on March 25.

  • “I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

  • - “I've Been to the Mountaintop”, April 3, 1968

  • During this period King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the American Liberties Medallion by the American Jewish Committee. He broadened his focus and began to speak out against the Vietnam War and the economic injustice that plagued the nation. King was concerned that the United States government was spending money on a wasteful war while it should have been directed toward programs to help the nation's poorest citizens.

  • In early April, 1968, King visited Memphis, Tennessee to support the local black sanitary public works union. On April 4, King was shot to death by James Earl Ray in his hotel in Memphis. President Johnson called a national day of mourning on April 7. In 1983 Congress cemented King's legacy as an American icon by declaring the third Monday of every January Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

  • "If you give your life to a cause in which you believe, and if it is right and just, and if your life comes to an end as a result of this, then your life could not have been spent in a more redemptive way. I think that is what my husband has done."

  • - Coretta Scott King, April 9, 1968

  • Dr. King's legacy has inspired civil rights activists for the past forty years, and will continue to do so as long as there is injustice in the world. Organizations like the NAACP have carried on his work on behalf of all people of color, and have endeavored to keep his dream alive for future generations. We can always look to Dr. King's actions – and, especially, his words – to remind us of what we are fighting for and why we must continue to fight. If we ever get sidetracked or discouraged, we can remember Dr. King's closing remarks at the NAACP Emancipation Day Rally in 1957:

  • “I close by saying there is nothing greater in all the world than freedom. It's worth going to jail for. It's worth losing a job for. It's worth dying for. My friends, go out this evening determined to achieve this freedom which God wants for all of His children.”

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