Notes on African-American History Since 1900



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1903

W. E. B. DuBois:

-Challenged Washington on the basis that he was not striving to reverse Plessy v. Ferguson

-Published “Souls of Black Folk”, in it DuBois advocated Liberal Arts education as well as industrial education and a “Talented Tenth” of people trained in Liberal Arts to lead the under educated masses. He also criticized Booker T. Washington.
July 1903

Monroe Trotter and associates unsuccessfully challenged Booker T. Washington’s control of the Afro-American Council.


August 1903

Trotter and associates harassed Booker T. Washington by throwing eggs and rotten tomatoes at him. Trotter jailed. Event called the “Boston Riot”. Libel suit was brought against the Guardian by supporters of Booker T. Washington.


1905

Niagara Movement:

-W. E. B. DuBois, Monroe Trotter, and 29 other African American men meet and form the Niagara Movement, demanding immediate political equality.

-to promote civil rights (anti-Washington)

-immediate voting rights

-immediate desegregation

-immediate right to self-defense

-Referred to as the Niagara Movement because they met on the Canadian side of Niagara falls.

-Did work with White allies

-Socialist and frontal assault on Jim Crow and segregation
1906

Harpers Ferry meeting included women.


1907

Split occurred between Trotter and DuBois and weakened the feuding Niagara Movement.


1909

Riot in Springfield, Illinois

-African American community was destroyed

-Liberals called for action as Springfield was Lincoln’s hometown.


Oswald Garrison Williard issued a call along with Mary Overton for A National Negro Conference; invited those from Niagara movement. Led to the formation of the (NAACP).
1910

Founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

-New York as its base.

-Its leading members are a handful of African Americans and some whites. Among them are W. E. B. DuBois, Mary Church Terrell, Mary White Ovington and Ida B. Wells (Trotter didn’t join).

-The first local branch was established in Chicago, Illinois in 1911.

-DuBois became the editor of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis.

-James Weldon Johnson (Washington Camp) joined the staff as an organizer.

-By the end of its first decade, the NAACP had over 400 local branches with more than 91,000 members.

-The Crisis had a circulation of 16,000 copies; by 1919 it had a circulation of 100,000.

-Decide to legally challenge Plessy v. Ferguson.


1910-1911

The National Urban League established

-Made up of Washington supporters and women from both sides

-Helped migrants get city jobs and housing.

-Did social work.

-Established affiliates from existing services.
1913

Noble Drew Ali: Founding of Moorish Science Temple

-Predecessor to the Nation of Islam


The Great Migration

Between 1890 and 1922, the boll weevil ruined 85% of the South’s cotton fields. Rains also ruined the land. In 1917, with the beginning of World War I, four million white workers were called in the U. S. armed forces, leaving vacancies in Northern factories. Between 1915 and 1930, over a million African Americans left the South (fill the jobs). Geographical dispersion of African Americans. White immigration dropped due to war.


African American Newspapers

The Washington Bee, The New York Age, The Cleveland Gazzette, and The Pittsburgh Courier. The most influential paper was The Chicago Defender founded by Robert S. Abbott. It had headlines such as “Get Out of The”. At its peak, the Defender had a national circulation of 300,000.

-From 1900 to 1920 between 100,000 and 500,000 African Americans needed to calls of labor recruiters championed by Robert Abbott.


1914-1917

Marcus Garvey: Universal Negro Improvement Association; Garvey/DuBois debated

-Garvey (Jamaican) sees the way African Americans were treated around the world and reports on it.

-Rise of national consciousness
1915

Association for the study of Negro Life and History

-founded by Carter G. Woodson.


Birth of a Nation film, by D. W. Griffith.
1917

26 Riots occurred across the country and the KKK was in revival. Race Riot of East St. Louis.


Cyril Briggs

-Editor of The Crusader

-Organized the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB)

-Began to fight back for rights, jobs, etc.


July 28, 1917
NAACP staged a protest parade against lynching
DuBois issued statement in The Crisis, “Close Ranks” and most African American leaders supported war efforts except A. Phillip Randolph.
World War I

-African American soldiers faced discrimination while in basic training and were put into segregated units.

-370,000 African Americans were trained for combat and about 100,000 fought and performed with distinction.
August 1917

A racial incident took place in Houston, Texas. An African American soldier attempting to get on a public street car was pulled off and racial insults hurled at him. A group of armed angry African American soldiers came to town and a street fight took place, leaving 12 white civilians dead. Thirteen soldiers in an army court martial were found guilty of murder and were hanged. Fourteen others were jailed for life.


1916-1925

Up You Mighty Race

-Marcus Garvey built the UNIA into a mass organization which claimed four million in ranks.

-Marcus Garvey placed emphasis on knowledge of Afrikan history unlike Hon. Elijah Muhammad.

-“No race should accept inferiority”

-Africa for Africans


Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

-Another party of interest for African Americans

-Big Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Worley and John Reed supported a strike in Patterson, New Jersey
1917

Formation of Revolutionary Black National Organization

-Prior to Garvey – “Liberty League of Negro Americans”
Harrison was elected president and Editor of “The Voice”

-He denounced lynchings, Jim Crow practices laws

-Advocated kill, instead of being killed
Formation of African-American Political Party

-splits & divisions occurred in Liberty League

-Organization couldn’t handle it and therefore became defunct

-Many former members joined “UNIA”


November 1917

Workers’ Soviet Union was established

-Socialism was supposed to present an alternative economic system to capitalism
1919

Red Summer

-African American and White men return from WWI. Jobs are filled. Leads to confrontation.

-African Americans were treated as heroes in France during WWI. Return to U.S. and are considered “uppity niggers” and are therefore lynched.

-Hundreds of African Americans are killed

-25 Riots

-Washington, D. C. 6 dead – 150 injured; Chicago 38 dead – 537 injured

-Garvey and DuBois debated because Garvey felt that equality could never be achieved.


1920

Harlem Renaissance

-Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, James Weldon Johnson wrote significant poems, prose and songs for the period representing the “New Negro”.

-Sculptor: Meta Warrick Fuller, Writer: Dorothy West.

-Blues: Ma Rainey, Blind Lemon, and Bessie Smith.

-Two Pan-African Conferences (convened by DuBois)

-one in Brussels, one in Paris.


1921

Committee (including DuBois, Walter White, Cyril Briggs) called for Government investigation of Garvey


1922

Garvey indicted by the federal grand jury for mail fraud (imprisoned).


1925

Beginning of student strikers at Negro colleges; Fisk University – fight for student activities and for African American presidents of African American colleges.


June 25, 1925

Pullman Porters Organization

-A. Philip Randolph involved

-had fewer African Americans employed as repair and erection of trains, higher paying jobs or as management and no African Americans could be conductors.

-African American workers were relegated to positions of personal service

-15,000 Pullman Porters had to pay cost of uniforms, shoes, polish and own meals; which cut into already comparatively lacking wages.

400 hours of work, not including prep time

Created Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

-The “Messenger” was to be main voice of Brotherhood

-drafted a letter of grievance to Pullman Organization

-first organized union to off set union workers

-Chinese, Phillippines and other workers were hired

-Brotherhood called a strike. Pullman Company caved in.


Revival of KKK to a membership of four million
Persecution of I.W.W.
1927

Harding pardoned Garvey and he is released from federal prison in Atlanta and immediately deported.


Student strike at Tuskegee Institute.
International Colored Union League

-Hubert Harrison

-began to advocate a Black State

-Emphasis on Youth Development

-Worked with Marcus Garvey
December 17, 1927

Hubert Harrison died; legacy of radical mentorship.


October 1929

Stock market crashed

-African Americans are left in a situation worse than “Depression standards”.

**Note: African Americans had been loyal to Republicans


New Leaders of the 1930s and the 1940s
African-Americans first demonstrated political clout when they elected a black Republican, Oscar DePriest of Chicago to Congress in 1928. In 1934, Chicago’s Arthur W. Mitchell became the first African-American Democrat elected to Congress. The urban concentration of African-Americans was reflected in the election of thirty African-Americans to state legislatures in 1946 and the election to Congress of Harlem’s Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in 1944, and Chicago’s William L. Dawson and Detroit’s Charles Diggs in 1954.
Of the many African-American leaders to emerge in the 1930s and 1940s, A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. stand out. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. entered the political arena while A. Philip Randolph concentrated on labor.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. became a political race militant minister who emerged out of the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign against white merchants who discriminated against hiring African-American sales persons in Harlem. “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” was an African-American initiated boycott movement which used direct action tactics (pickets, etc.).
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was born on November 29, 1908 in New Haven, Connecticut. His father, the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., moved the family to New York City to take over the pulpit of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. Adam, Jr. went to public schools and then to the City University of New York where he flunked out because of his love of the “party life”. His father was instrumental in getting Jr. enrolled in Colgate University in 1926, where he was one of only four African-American students. After graduating from Colgate in 1930, he entered Columbia University and earned a MA in Religious Education in 1931. In 1937, Powell, Sr. retired as pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church and handed over the pulpit to his assistant minister, Adam, Jr. Abyssinian, located on West 138th, had the largest African-American Baptist congregation in Harlem, with over 10,000 members.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. began building a base of mass support from the success of the demonstrations and strikes he helped lead during this time. New York City, and particularly Harlem, had become the center for progressive politics of the period. La Guardia, an urban progressive populist, had become Mayor of New York City, and the Tammany Hall Machine was cracking. Powell, Jr. was the co-editor of the Harlem Weekly, “The People’s Voice” in 1942, and he began to build up a following through it and his protest activities.100
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who was elected to Congress in 1944, developed the ground rules for the progressive race militant. He helped pioneer the politics of boycotts and picketing on behalf of occupational mobility for African-Americans.
Powell, Jr.’s first attempt at this approach occurred when he responded to a request from five doctors in Harlem, who charged that their dismissal from Harlem Hospital, a city institution, was racially motivated. Dr. Ira McCown, the leading figure among Harlem’s doctors during the 1930’s, invited Powell, Jr. to organize to exert political pressure on behalf of Harlem’s beleaguered African-American doctors.
Harlem Hospital served a predominantly African-American clientele, but was run exclusively by white, largely Irish-American doctors and administrators. Powell, Jr., a 22 year old upcoming leader, organized mass direct action and mobilized 6,000 people to march on the hospital and City Hall. As a result the Board of Estimates launched an investigation. All five doctors were reinstated, and Harlem Hospital had an interracial staff with an African-American Medical Director.
In 1937, Powell, Jr. formed the Greater New York Coordinating Committee for Employment, comprised of 207 groups with a combined membership of 170,000. By 1941, the Coordinating Committee had expanded to embrace a variety of white radical organizations, including the Communist Party, and became the People’s Party.

“Between 1937 and 1941, the Coordinating Committee for Employment and the People’s Party began to boycott white businesses on 125th Street (businesses that in 1933 hired some 5,000 persons, but only 93 African-Americans), to force the Omnibus Corporation that ran New York City’s buses to upgrade African-American workers, to negotiate hundreds of jobs for African-Americans in bottling and bread companies, and in large firms like Consolidated Edison and the New York Telephone and Telegraph Company”.101


In 1941, Powell, Jr. ran for City Council. In a field of 29 candidates Powell Jr. received 65,000 votes, placing third, and winning a seat, the first African-American to do so. In 1942, he became the co-editor of a weekly newspaper, “The People’s Voice”.
In August, 1944, Powell, Jr. not only gained the Democratic and Republican Party’s nomination for the first African-American majority Congressional District in New York, but also the left wing American Labor Party’s nomination. He won that seat without opposition.

“In the twentieth century, Powell, Jr. was preceded in Congress by three other northern African-Americans, all elected from Chicago’s Southside; Oscar DePriest (1929-34), Arthur Mitchell (1934-42) and Dawson (1942-71). Whereas these African-American predecessors gained office largely through use of pragmatic style and deference, to a city machine, Powell launched his congressional career in the same way that he commenced his Harlem leadership, relying on ethnic militancy and black populist arousal”.102


Powell, Jr. stood alone in the years before sizeable African-American representation in Congress, using national politics as a platform for articulating a form of African-American militancy. In the mid-1950’s Powell, Jr. supported the Republican candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower, for President. He was unhappy with the Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson, who was not forceful on civil rights. Powell. Jr.’s influence was felt during he election, because, for the first time since 1936, more than one-third of African-American voters backed the Republican Party. As a result the New York Democratic Party tried to remove Powell, Jr. from the Party.
By 1959, Powell, Jr. and Dawson from Chicago were joined in Congress by two new African-American Democratic Congressman, Charles Diggs of Michigan and Robert Nix of Pennsylvania. They voted against a civil rights amendment to the Housing Act, because the amendment, which had been initiated by Republicans, was designed to make it unacceptable to Southern Congressmen, thus defeating the entire Housing Act.
Powell, Jr. also, in the same session, initiated another civil rights amendment, this time to the Education Act. The amendment was adopted, but the Education Act itself was defeated. When Powell, Jr. was elevated to chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee in 1961, his effectiveness increased. He would occasionally attach a pro-civil rights amendment to crucial legislation that came from his committee. These amendments were eventually called the “Powell Amendments”.
Through these amendments, and having a competent staff, Powell, Jr.’s committee produced significant public policies that were beneficial to African-Americans, the aged, the handicapped, women, poor whites, and Hispanics. In his first five years as chairman, (1961-66), Powell, Jr.’s committee generated nearly sixty pieces of significant social legislation, forty-nine of which were bedrock bills, and eleven amending bills. This social legislation covered such areas as fair employment practices, elementary and secondary school aid, manpower development and training, vocational rehabilitation, school lunch programs, war on poverty, federal aid to libraries, barring discrimination in wages for women, and increasing the minimum wage.
Powell, Jr.’s weaknesses were women and lavish spending, which were eventually used against him. In August,1966, racist elements in the House charged him with cashing checks meant for members of his staff, particularly his wife. The House stripped him of his chairmanship and denied him his seat when the 90th Congress opened on January 10, 1967. Powell, Jr. was re-elected in April, 1967, and was again denied his seat. He took the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that he should be reinstated.
In 1970, Charles Rangel defeated Powell, Jr. in the Democratic primary. Thus ended the political career of one of the first African-American political militants.
In the 1930’s, African-American political protest began to mature. The NAACP, and its strategy of legalistic advancement, was replaced by aggressive militant protest. The “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” movement developed in large cities concerned over the fact that African-Americans were not employed in white owned stores located in areas which depended on African-American patronage.
John O. Holly formed the Future Outlook League in Cleveland between February 11 and March 4, 1935, with the intention of securing employment for African-Americans. At the time there were 13,000 businesses operating in central Cleveland that were patronized exclusively by African-Americans. Less than 100 African-Americans were employed in these businesses and they were principally porters and janitors.
John Oliver Holly, Jr. was born December 3, 1903 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He attended a private school until he reached the fifth grade after which he attended the public schools in Tuscaloosa. After World War I, the family moved to the small town of Rhoda, Virginia. At the age of 15, Holly dropped out of school to work in the coalmines. The Holly family moved to Roanoke, Virginia where John, Jr. completed his high school education at Roanoke Harrison High School.
John’s father moved on to Detroit, Michigan and established a trucking business. At age 20, John, Jr. joined him and, for a while, attended Detroit’s Caso Technical Commercial School. John Holly, Jr. dropped out of school and took a job with the Packard Motor Company as a gas tank finisher. From 1924 to 1926, he held many odd jobs, but finally landed a job as a chauffeur, which afforded him the opportunity to travel extensively. At the age of 23, John married Miss Leola Lee and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. In Cleveland, he obtained employment at Halle’s Department Store as a porter and three years later took a job as a shipping clerk for the Federal Sanitation Company, a chemical manufacturing company. He held this job for 10 years until he became a full time organizer for the Future Outlook League.
The Future Outlook League succeeded in securing several hundred jobs for African-Americans by applying direct action picketing and a selective boycott. At its peak the FOL had over 20,000 members and secured employment for over 15,000 African-American Cleveland residents using these methods. In addition juvenile delinquency rates were cut by 50% and over 6,000 homes were renovated.103
The Communist Party challenged the NAACP and the Urban League for their conservative, accommodationist (go-slow) attitude. Ten thousand African-Americans joined the Communist Party between the 1930’s to the early 1950’s, and Benjamin Davis, Jr. was elected to the New York City Council in 1942 as an African-American communist. Sharecroppers were organized into a union, the unemployed were organized into unemployment councils and marches were held all over the country. A labor/Communist Party/New Deal/African-American alliance was formed in 1932, which supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democratic candidate for President. This was the time when African-Americans collectively shifted from the Republican to the Democratic Party.


Who was Asa Philip Randolph?

  • editor of Socialist monthly, The Messenger

  • J. Edgar Hoover held conspiracy investigations.

  • Hoover wanted magazine to stop circulation of the Messenger because it was against lynching and for arming ourselves

  • A. P. Randolph third to Martin Luther King Jr. and Garvey in popularity.

  • advocated physical resistance to white mobs

  • organizes Sleeping Car Porters (first African American Union)

  • talked about change and resistance

  • was more militant than W. E. B. DuBois

  • worked with Chandler Owens

  • saw that World War I was capitalist in nature; spoke out against U. S. involvement

  • was arrested in Cleveland.

Randolph especially believed in organizing and federating all black labor. White unions were almost 100% anti-black and most of the violence of the period was the result of racism in the field of labor. African-Americans, however, continued to be good union men in those unions that admitted them, broke strikes when forced to by white chauvinist unions and formed their own unions like the Colored Waiters, Afro-American Steam and Gas Engineers, and Skilled Laborers. Randolph and Chandler joined the Black National Brotherhood of Workers of America in 1919 whose growth presented a sufficient threat to the racist A.F. of L., that it liberalized its policies on admitting blacks.


Asa Philip Randolph was born on April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida, into a religious family. He was the second son of an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) preacher who also operated a tailoring business to make ends meet. His mother took in wash to help with the family income. The family moved to Jacksonville in his youth.
In the household there was always debate about various leadership strategies. Asa and his older brother were constantly induced with a strong sense of self-esteem, racial pride, and were excellent students in school, but lacked the money to go beyond high school. His older brother financed his college education by working as a porter.
In 1905, Randolph entered Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, which later became Bethune-Cookman College. After graduation, Randolph began to experience despair, because, as an African American, he could only find manual labor jobs in the South. He had spent several summers in New York, traveling by ship, because it was cheaper than the train, and even worked as a waiter on the Fall River Line. At the age of twenty-two, Randolph decided to emigrate to New York in 1911. Randolph took a series of odd jobs to support himself, working as an elevator operator, a porter and a waiter. He formed an Elevator and Switchboard Operators Union while attending City College of New York at night.
In Harlem, New York, Randolph gained an education and exposure to radical politics attending lectures at the Socialist Rand School of Economics and attended classes at the City University of New York.

Randolph became involved with political radicalism through exposure to the soapbox oratory of the pioneer black Socialist Hubert Harrison, as well as that of white radicals like Elizabeth Hurley Flynn, “Big Bill” Haywood, and Eugene Debs.104


Randolph married Lucille Campbell Greene, a beauty shop operator with ties to Madame C. J. Walker, in 1913. Lucille Randolph became a crucial source of financial support for her husband’s subsequent undertakings. Through Lucille, Randolph met Chandler Owen.

During World War I, the two followed the international position of socialism and refused to support the war effort, a capitalistic venture. Randolph had supported the work of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), while opposing the work of the American Federation of Labor (AFL)105


In 1917, Randolph and Owen opened a job bureau, the Brotherhood, through which they worked to organize African Americans into unions, and attempted to form a black labor federation. But they received resistance from white workers and the AFL.

In November 1917, both men founded The Messenger, a monthly magazine, which charted a unique radical path. In 1919, The Messenger became the official organ of the National Brotherhood Workers of America, an organization seeking to federate all black unions, and organize African Americans having no union membership. By 1923, The Messenger was criticizing both DuBois and Garvey and also calling for African Americans to organize.


Both were arrested for treason for opposing U.S. involvement in the war at an anti-war rally in Cleveland, Ohio in 1918. They were jailed, and then released. Charges were dropped, but the two had to get out of town. Both men joined the Socialist Party, because they felt that the Socialist Party represented the interests of workers, which was logical since 99% of African Americans were workers.
Advocating cooperatives and economic boycotts, Randolph and Owen organized the Friends of Negro Freedom in an attempt to build a national civil rights organization with an economic strategy in 1920. The effort failed, mainly because it was involved in the derailment of the Garvey movement.
After the Elevator and Switchboard Operators Union was taken over by whites, and after many failed attempts at organizing trade unionism among African Americans, Randolph concentrated his appeals to the Pullman Porters. On June 25, 1925 Randolph met with porters of The Pullman Palace Car Company, one of the largest employers of African Americans in the country. Though the company claimed to have hired so may African Americans out of concern for their well being, the fact is that Pullman hired very few of them in its repair and erection shops; in addition, management explicitly excluded African Americans from service as conductors. Pullman officials chose to use African American men as providers of personal services on sleeping cars, thereby maintaining their ex-slave status of personal servants. The discussion at the meeting centered on the conditions under which they worked. Porters were required to remain on call at sign-out offices for several hours a day, without pay; porters in charge often had to perform conductor’s work without adequate compensation for extra services.106

There were 15,000 Pullman porters traveling all over the country. Those assigned to regular runs began work at $67.00 a month; if they remained in service for 15 years, they would thereafter receive $94.50. Tips increased the actual earnings, but the cost of uniforms, shoe polish, meals, etc. was deducted from their wages. Their 11,000 miles of travel per month usually meant 400 hours, excluding preparatory time and time spent at terminals. To aggravate the situation, porters often “doubled out” or ran “in charge” of a car, taking increased responsibility under unfavorable physical conditions for added pay at a diminishing rate.107


Despite opposition from the Pullman Company, many porters were convinced that they needed a real union to end the unconscionable conditions under which they labored. Agreeing that the solution to their problems lay in trade unionism, several porter organizers, Billy Bowers and Ashley Totter asked Randolph, who didn’t work for the company, to organize them in 1925. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) was formally organized on August 25, 1925. The intention of the BSCP was to deal with the low wages, long hours, lack of adequate rest on trips, lack of bargaining power and, lack of job security in their work. The porters of the Pullman Company chose Randolph as their leader and agreed that The Messenger would be the official organ of the union.108 The rally publicly launching the brotherhood was hailed as the greatest labor mass meeting ever held, of, for, and by African American working men, Randolph drafted a set of demands that were to be met without exception:

  1. Recognition of the brotherhood.

  2. Increase of wages to $150.00 a month.

  3. A 240-hour month and relief from doubling out.

  4. Pay for preparation time.109

The Pullman Company had a strong anti-union stance, so the Brotherhood held to the highest standards of secrecy, even after the union was publicly known to exist. Randolph was not a porter, and thus was immune from Pullman vengeance.


At first the Pullman Company did not take the Brotherhood seriously, but as membership and support increased, they knew that the BSCP was a force to be reckoned with, and the Pullman Company launched an all-out attack on the BSCP. Many porters were “dishonorably” discharged or physically harmed. Pullman even went so far as to subsidize the black press, in exchange for an anti-union stance. The Brotherhood also face opposition from the Ku Klux Klan in the South. Below the Mason-Dixon Line, BSCP organizational drives were restricted to a porter “underground”. Furthermore, to let the black porters know that they were not indispensable, the Pullman Company began hiring a few Chinese, Mexican and Filipino porters. The Brotherhood tried to reassure the black porters that the U.S. immigration laws made this company threat meaningless, but the threat did have an effect.110
With shrinking membership and a corresponding decline in dues, the Brotherhood was forced to close many of its branch offices. It appeared that the efforts to unionize black porters would have the same fate as Randolph’s previous attempts to organize blacks into unions. But the Brotherhood’s efforts in the face of “Pullman’s vicious counteroffensive” had earned the BSCP the respect and support of many, including the NAACP, several labor and liberal publications, the Chicago Federation of Labor and the AFL.111
Motivated by the widespread support, the BSCP continued on. After failed attempts at negotiating with Pullman officials, the BSCP moved against the company on a governmental level. However, the U.S. Government was clearly unwilling to stand up for the African American worker, and the Brotherhood announced that it would strike. Although the strike did not take place, the Brotherhood’s leader argued that the mere threat of a strike had brought the union great gain, since it had “reversed the concept of the American public stereotype of a shuffling, tip-taking porter to an upstanding American worker, demanding his right to organize a union on his own, as well as a living wage”.112
With the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, as President of the United States; his New Deal sponsored the National Industrial Recovery Act, which had a clause, Section 7A, that gave specific guarantees to labor. Workers were assured of the right to organize and select their own representatives, free of interference from their employer.
The BSCP finally won recognition from the Pullman Company after twelve years of struggle on August 25, 1937. This was the first time that a major corporation had signed a contract with the first African American union in the country.

Under the direction of A. Philip Randolph as president, the Brotherhood grew to the point where the Pullman Company was forced to bargain collectively for porters and maids. The contract as recently signed grants a 240-hour month, time and one-half for overtime, a minimum wage of $89.50 a month for the first year with progressive increases to $110.50… Over 8,000 porters and maids benefited by a wage increase of $1,152,000 for 1937.113


The Pullman Company tried to buy Randolph by sending him a blank check offering him up to the sum of one million dollars. Randolph photostatted the check, put the copy up in his office and sent the original back to the Pullman Company, saying that his leadership was not for sale. The success of the organizing campaign and his refusal to sell out immediately propelled Randolph into national leadership.
By 1936, 500 organizations gathered to form the National Negro Congress, which placed heavy emphasis on unionizing unskilled African-American labor. Through the NNC, support for the organizing efforts of the Council of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was secured in the African-American community. As a major respected labor leader, A. Philip Randolph was elected Chair of the NNC. The Southern Negro Youth Congress, the youth branch of the NNC, held demonstrations against segregation and for economic equality in the South.
By 1939, a very broad spectrum of the African-American community was united behind the labor/Communist Party/New Deal/African-American alliance. However, the Communist Party changed its position several times during this time in accordance with the changes that were occurring in the Soviet Union. This abrupt change of tactics by the Communist Party, and its African-American cadre, as well as the introduction of foreign policy within the NNC, ruptured the united front between A. Philip Randolph, other African-American leaders and the Communist Party.
In 1940 A. Philip Randolph resigned as Chairman of the National Negro Congress. After a meeting with President Roosevelt, which he felt accomplished nothing, Randolph issued a call through the African-American newspapers for 10,000 African-Americans to march on Washington D.C. This march was to demand the right to federal employment and the right to fight for the United States in World War II in non-segregated Armed Forces.

The March on Washington Movement (MOWM) was all African American and mobilized thousands through rallies in African American communities. It forced Roosevelt to desegregate hiring in the defense industry and to create the Committee on Fair Employment Practices (FEPC).


Randolph began making plans to build an independent, African-American mass movement, but in 1941, Japan attacked the United States. The U.S. entered into World War II on the side of the allies, against Japan, Germany and Italy, the axis powers. The Soviet Union was an American ally. The Communist Party’s position was that the struggle for racial equality would have to wait until after the war; their immediate strategy was to help the allies defeat fascism.


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