As February rolls to a close, it is most appropriate to remember one of history’s greatest labor leaders, A Philip Randolph. On August 28, 1963 more than 200,000 Americans gathered in Washington DC for a political rally which became a key moment in the struggle for civil rights in the United States. On that day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired millions across the world with the delivery of his immortal “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
In many ways that march and that speech defined the virtue and ideals of an era struggling for and through progressive change – a struggle which continues today.
What we often forget is the place of organized labor in bringing about this watershed event.
When looking over photos documenting this history-changing event, one sees the two principal organizers of the event at Dr. King’s side. One is A. Philip Randolph who had been an African American Union leader (National Brotherhood of Workers of America and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) for more than 40 years, and now considered the father of the modern American civil rights movement. Randolph’s protege Bayard Rustin, who can also clearly be seen in those pictures, had been cutting his teeth organizing non-violent protest for decades.
The idea for the March on Washington actually began back in 1941 when these two began organizing such an event.