A. Philip Randolph set a standard in the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement, inspiring other great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
Randolph’s original March On Washington Movement (MOWM) took shape in the Spring of 1941, getting the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who was forced to meet Randolph’s demands.
Not to be confused with the 1963 March On Washington, the 1941 march had similar aims of promoting fairness and equality for Black American workers. Segregation, rampant racism and other roadblocks stood in the way of African-American prosperity. Randolph and others saw the contradiction in America battling the racist Nazi soldiers in World War II, bristling at the fact Blacks were barred from opportunities at home because of their race.
In fact, White workers in the early stages of the War benefited from huge government-funded contracts working in defense plants. Black workers, even those with proven skills, were shut out of those jobs and told they could get jobs as janitors instead.
Randolph’s skills as an organizer were formed after he became the head of the first predominately Black labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in 1925. Randolph applied his organizing skills, stressing the importance of the movement being an “All-Negro” affair without any assistance or funding from White sources.
“It helps to break down the slave psychology and inferiority complex in Negroes which comes and is nourished with Negroes relying on white people for direction and support,” Randolph said of the movement.
MOWM chapters across the country had the backing of Black newspapers, who essentially ran MOVM propaganda and provided running numbers. At one point, over 100,000 marchers were predicted to head to Washington on July 1 to put pressure on President Roosevelt and the government.
President Roosevelt met with Randolph, asking that the MOVM march be called off. Randolph agreed to do so but only if the group’s demands for fairness and equality in the workplace were met. Washington, a segregated city at the time, was resistant to the idea of that many Blacks coming to the city and was upset that Randolph said marchers would stay in White hotels if needed.
At first, President Roosevelt would not agree to the terms but there was a change just a week before the scheduled march.
On July 25, 1941, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in the government and defense industry. This also established the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). The MOVM continued its efforts until 1947, and surfaced once more during the planning stages of the historic March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom in 1963 which was also led by Randolph.