He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly African American labor union.
In the early Civil Rights Movement, Randolph led the March on Washington Movement, a movement that convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 in 1941, banning discrimination in the defense industries during World War II. The group then successfully pressured President Harry S. Truman to issue Executive Order 9981 in 1948, ending segregation in the armed services.
Randolph inspired the Freedom budget, sometimes called the “Randolph Freedom budget”, which aimed to deal with the economic problems facing the black community.
Philip Randolph brought the gospel of trade unionism to millions of African American households. Randolph led a 10-year drive to organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and served as the organization’s first president. Randolph directed the March on Washington movement to end employment discrimination in the defense industry and a national civil disobedience campaign to ban segregation in the armed forces. The nonviolent protest and mass action effort inspired the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Randolph became the most widely known spokesperson for black working-class interests in the country. In December 1940, with President Franklin Roosevelt refusing to issue an executive order banning discrimination against black workers in the defense industry, Randolph called for “10,000 loyal Negro American citizens” to march on Washington, D.C. Support grew so quickly that soon he was calling for 100,000 marchers to converge on the capital.
The movement recognized his role by naming him the chair of the 1963 March on Washington, at which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and by heeding his advice to cooperate in keeping the march nonviolent. Randolph was elected a vice president of the newly merged AFL-CIO in 1955. He used his position to push for desegregation and respect for civil rights inside the labor movement as well as outside. He was one of the founders of the Negro American Labor Council and served as its president from 1960 to 1966. In 1964 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson.
Retiring as president of the BSCP in 1968, Randolph was named the president of the recently formed A. Philip Randolph Institute, established to promote trade unionism in the black community. He continued to serve on the AFL-CIO Executive Council until 1974. He died in New York City on May 16, 1979.