Endorsement of Hubert Humphrey followed by Questions and Answers with Reporters, (10 September 1968) New York City, NY
A. Philip Randolph was born in Jacksonville, Florida on April 15, 1889. Asa Philip was born to working-class parents that exuberated race pride and religious piety.1 After attending college and finding the working conditions of the Jim Crow South untenable, Randolph moved to New York in 1911.
Once in New York, Randolph took classes at the City College of New York (CCNY)—a university known for its anti-capitalist resistance and organizing. Randolph’s time at CCNY introduced him to other prominent labor organizers like Eugene V. Debs and William “Big Bill” Haywood who helped shape his class-consciousness. While in New York, Randolph saw Marcus Garvey give his first U.S. speech in 1916 and watched the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 embolden the radicals of Harlem. Randolph became more radicalized surrounded by such challenges to authority and a support system of like-minded people.2
By 1918, Randolph had laid the groundwork for some of his most notable contributions in his fight for economic and racial justice. First, Randolph joined the Socialist Party. Second, Randolph and his friend from CCNY, Chandler Owen, began publishing The Messenger. The publication of The Messenger solidified Randolph’s early role in anti-capitalist struggles and created a notoriety that made his future achievements possible. While Randolph extolled the excellence of unionized labor in The Messenger, members of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) were not willing to look past race in their labor struggles. The racism of the AFL gave rise to the need for a Black labor union.
Randolph parlayed his popularity from publishing The Messenger into becoming the President of the Black Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) in 1925.3 Randolph’s work with the BSCP was one of his most enduring engagements, a point he made in his “Endorsement of Hubert Humphrey.” Randolph’s early work with the BSCP carried him through the Great Depression. As the BSCP’s popularity waned during the Depression years, Roosevelt’s New Deal with its guarantees for labor reinvigorated the organization and solidified Randolph’s national prominence. In 1936, Randolph transformed the momentum he gained from the success of the Sleeping Car Porters into a leadership role in the National Negro Congress (NNC). As president of the NNC, Randolph worked with the NNC for roughly four years until rumors of communist infiltration made the organization’s work for civil rights untenable. Randolph resigned as president of the NNC in 1940 and shortly thereafter began his next major civil rights campaign.4
After leaving the NNC, Randolph founded the March on Washington Movement (MOWM) in 1941. The crowning achievement of the MOWM was the U.S. government’s establishment of the Fair Employment Protection Committee (FEPC).5 The establishment of the FEPC netted Randolph influence with burgeoning organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). August Meir and Elliot Rudwick conclude that Randolph’s success with the MOWM influenced CORE’s principles and inspired members, like Bayard Rustin, to believe that their organization could also achieve notable change for civil rights.6
Before his 1968 “Endorsement of Hubert Humphrey,” Randolph’s three decades of fighting for racial and economic equality was praised by some of the most well-known institutional forces. In the 1960 Salute to Philip Randolph, Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) remarked, “It is a privilege to be numbered among those paying tribute tonight to a dedicated American, A. Philip Randolph.” As Humphrey observed, “America has profited from Philip Randolph’s presence among us.”7 In 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson awarded Randolph the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In his remarks at the awards ceremony, Johnson extolled, “All Americans are proud, as I am proud, to salute today the great Americans here before me. Their lives and their works have made freedom stronger for all of us in our time.”8 By 1964, in both deed and accreditation, Randolph had become a titan of the Civil Rights Movement. The final challenge Randolph had to face before his 1968 “Endorsement” was the changing visage of the movement he had worked so hard to sustain.
To salvage the progress of the Civil Rights Movement, Randolph urged more Black people to vote in the 1968 presidential election. In 1968, Paula Pfeffer argues that “The New Left” had stirred up disbelief in the potential of democratic engagement to benefit the lives of Black Americans.9 The allure of Black Power and Black Nationalism in the 1960s was also steering Black Americans away from the voting booth. The disenchantment that was preached by speakers like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael altered the rhetoric of more institutionally recognized forces like Hubert Humphrey and Martin Luther King, Jr.10 As a seasoned and decorated leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Randolph took to the podium to ensure that the mass of Black people did not miss their opportunity to elect Hubert Humphrey. On September 10, 1968, Randolph officially endorsed Democrat Hubert Humphrey for President in the campaign that elected Republican Richard M. Nixon as president two months later.11
- Cornelius L. Bynum, A Philip Randolph and the Struggle for Civil Rights (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 4.
- Andrew E. Kersten and Clarence Lang, eds., “A Reintroduction to Asa Philip Randolph,” in Reframing Randolph: Labor, Black Freedom, and the Legacies of A. Philip Randolph (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 4.
- Preston Valien, “The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters,” Phylon 1, no. 3 (1940): 227.
- Lawrence S. Wittner, “The National Negro Congress: A Reassessment,” American Quarterly 22, no. 4 (1970): 844.
- Eileen Boris, “Fair Employment and the Origins of Affirmative Action in the 1940s,” NWSA Journal 10, no. 3 (1998): 143.
- August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 15.
- Hubert Humphrey, “Excerpts from the Remarks of Senator Hubert H. Humphrey at Salute to A. Philip Randolph,” Carnegie Hall, New York, Humphrey for President Committee, January 24, 1960, http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00442/pdfa/00442-00937.pdf.
- Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks at the Presentation of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom Awards,” The American Presidency Project, September 14, 1964, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/remarks-the-presentation-the-1964-presidential-medal-freedom-awards.
- Paula F. Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996), 283.
- Robert L. Scott and Wayne Brockriede, “Hubert Humphrey Faces the ‘Black Power’ Issue,” Speaker and Gavel 4, no. 1 (1966): 11; Robert L. Scott, “Black Power Bends Martin Luther King,” Speaker and Gavel 5, (1968): 82-83.
- “Randolph, Rustin Back HHH,” Chicago Tribune, September 11, 1968, 2; “A. Philip Randolph for HHH,” Kansas City Times, September 11, 1968, 2A.