The Platform Builder

A. Philip Randolph was born in Florida in 1889 to parents who were proud of their African American heritage. Philip and his brother were both excellent students, and Philip was the valedictorian of his high school class.

Philip had hoped to become an actor but gave up this pursuit. He became a civil rights activist with a focus on legal and economic equality. For a while, he was the publisher of a radical monthly magazine, but it failed when the staff began to fight among themselves over economic philosophy.

Philip changed his focus to union organizing. His most successful effort was with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), who worked for the Pullman Company. After initial failures, the BSCP gained traction when amendments to the Railway Labor Act granted porters basic rights.

Philip began to play a prominent role in the civil rights movement. In 1941, he and Bayard Rustin planned a march on Washington to open up war industries and the armed forces to African Americans.

The March was called off when President Roosevelt ended the discrimination in the war industries (but not the armed forces). Later, President Truman ended segregation in the armed forces.

Philip and Bayard Rustin were instrumental in teaching Martin Luther King how to organize peaceful demonstrations. Those demonstrations, and the violent backlash against them, were instrumental in making Americans aware of the struggles for civil rights.

Twenty-two years after the initial thinking about a march on Washington, Philip realized his dream of a march to focus on jobs and freedom for African Americans. The march ultimately led to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

While the March on Washington is best remembered for Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the March itself would never have occurred without the many years of efforts of Philip Randolph.

Hidden heroes often play vital role in building the framework for later, more tangible successes. The “I Have a Dream” speech galvanized the passage of critical civil rights legislation, but it took over 20 years of behind the scenes efforts of Philip Randolph and others to provide the platform for that speech.

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“I felt extremely uncomfortable as the focal point, in the spotlight. I really like the behind the scenes role, because all my freedom is there.”  – Brian Eno (Musician, Record Producer)

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