- NAME: A. Philip Randolph
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist
- BIRTH DATE: April 15, 1889
- DEATH DATE: May 16, 1979
- EDUCATION: City College of New York, Cookman Institute (now Bethune-Cookman University)
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Crescent City, Florida
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- Full Name: Asa Philip Randolph
- AKA: A. Philip Randolph
Best Known For
A. Philip Randolph was a labor leader and social activist who fought for the rights of African-American laborers, including better wages and working conditions.
Political Activism in Harlem (2:14)
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, speaks about the pioneering role labor leader and activist A. Philip Randolph played in the American Civil Rights movement.
Opened in 1913, the Hotel Theresa was considered the "Waldorf Astoria of Harlem" welcoming famous African-Americans, such as Joe Louis and Lena Horne, who were turned away from "whites only" hotels.
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, discusses famous figures who contributed to the history of political activism in Harlem.
Watch a short video about Martin Luther King, Jr. to learn how this advocate for peace and equality inherited his name from his father.
Think you know about Biography?
Answer questions and see how you rank against other players.Play Now
Labor leader and social activist A. Philip Randolph was born April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida. During World War I, Randolph tried to unionize African-American shipyard workers in Virginia and elevator operators in New York City, and founded a magazine designed to encourage African-American laborers to demand higher wages. In 1963, he was a principal organizer of the March on Washington. He died in New York City in 1979.
"A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess."
"Freedom is never given; it is won."
A. Philip Randolph was born Asa Philip Randolph on April 15, 1889, in Crescent City, Florida. He was the second son of James Randolph, a Methodist minister, and his wife, Elizabeth, both of whom were staunch supporters of equal rights for African Americans. In 1891, the Randolph family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where Asa would live for most of his youth, and where he would eventually attend the Cookman Institute, one of the first institutions of higher education for blacks in the country.
After graduating from Cookman, in 1911, Randolph moved to the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in the hopes of becoming an actor. During this time, he studied English literature and sociology at City College; held a variety of jobs, including as an elevator operator, a porter and a waiter; and developed his rhetorical skills. In 1912, Randolph made one of his earliest significant political moves when he founded an employment agency called the Brotherhood of Labor with Chandler Owen—a Columbia University law student who shared Randolph's socialist political views—as a means of organizing black workers. He began his efforts when, while working as a waiter on a coastal steamship, he organized a rally against their impoverished living conditions.
In 1913, Randolph married an intellectual Harvard graduate named Lucille Green, and shortly thereafter organized the Shakespearean Society in Harlem. He would play several title roles in subsequent productions by the group. In 1917, during World War I, Randolph and Chandler Owen founded a political magazine, The Messenger, and began publishing articles calling for the inclusion of more blacks in the armed forces and war industry, and demanding higher wages. Randolph also tried to unionize African-American shipyard workers in Virginia and elevator operators in New York City during this time.
After the war ended, Randolph lectured at the Rand School of Social Science. In 1920 and 1922, he unsuccessfully ran for offices in New York State on the Socialist Party ticket. By this time, Randolph had also become more convinced than ever that unions would be the best way for African Americans to improve their lot.
In 1925, Randolph founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Serving as its president, he sought to gain the union's official inclusion in the American Federation of Labor, the affiliates of which, at that time, frequently barred African Americans from membership. The BSCP met with resistance primarily from the Pullman Company, which was the largest employer of blacks at that time.
Visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a leading research institute for the history and culture of people of African descent.
Learn more about the lives of African-Americans who have made extraordinary achievements in their fields, with our collection of Black History Groups.
Explore our curated collections of African-American figures, including:
Flip through these photos of some of Black History's most important, controversial and inspiring figures. Check out our African-American Firsts - Athletes, Black Comedians, Million-Dollar Ideas, African-American Biopics, African-American Expats, or explore all of our Black History photos.
Celebrate the historical icons of America's black community through this interactive journey.
- Apollo Theater Interactive Tour
- Apollo Theater Timeline
- Path to Equality
- Who Am I Game
- Harlem Renaissance