Before the famed 1963 March on Washington there was the proposed March on Washington during the Truman Administration, and before that there was the March on Washington called off just six days prior to the event during the FDR Administration. 

All three have one thing … well actually, one person … in common – A. Philip Randolph. While the likes of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahalia Jackson were the “headliners” for the 1963 march, the draw was an unquenched thirst for freedom, justice and equality and the architect was Randolph, just as he was for two prior iterations. The reason many … most have never heard of the two previous proposed marches is because Randolph had a demand and each time it was met. Reluctantly met, but met nonetheless. That’s according to Fred Mason, executive board member of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

“In 1941 he (Randolph) was advocating for a March on Washington to integrate the Defense industry,” said Mason during a call into “Conversations with Al McFarlane” on July 30 on 90.3 FM, KFAI. “He initially put out the call for 10,000 people to march on Washington and he ended up getting commitments for 100,000. Six days before the scheduled event (President Franklin D.) Roosevelt signed an executive order integrating the Defense industry. Later he organized another march that forced (President Harry) Truman to integrate the full military.”

Mason said Randolph, who got his start in human and civil rights as the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters – the Black labor organization representing rail workers – was both a shrewd negotiator and a man of action. Randolph fought for 12 years to have the Pullman rail company finally negotiate a fair contract with the Brotherhood.

“He taught us one has not only to be committed, one has to be persistent,” said Mason.

For his many efforts on behalf of labor and civil rights Randolph, who died in 1979 at the age of 90, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest honor awarded for non-military – in 1964. His likeness is also memorialized on a U.S. Postal stamp.

In 1965 Randolph along with Bayard Rustin founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an organization of Black trade unionists. The institute will hold it’s 50th annual national conference Wednesday through Sunday at the Radisson Blu at the Mall of America. The conference is expected to bring nearly 800 people to the Twin Cities for the five-day event. Among them will be actor Danny Glover, comedian and talk show host Sheryl Underwood and political commentator Joe Madison. For more information about the conference visit

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