A. Philip Randolph as Inspiration for Change
by Susan Leem, associate producer
March 6, 1963: A. Philip Randolph (third from left) meets with other organizers of the March on Washington at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands to his right. (photo: OFF/AFP/Getty Images)
When we asked Grace Lee Boggs to speak about a leader who inspired her across her 96 years, the “elder stateswoman of the Black Power movement” credited labor leader A. Philip Randolph as her inspiration:
“In 1941, I was working for $10 a week in the philosophy library of the University of Chicago. I had got my PhD the year before. But $10 a week didn’t allow me to live very luxuriously, in fact, I was living rent-free in a basement. One of the disadvantages was that I had to face down a barricade of rats in order to get to the basement. And that put me in touch with the black community which was also facing rat-infested housing.
It was July 1941 and A. Philip Randolph was calling upon blacks to march on Washington to demand jobs in defense industries. Because the depression that ended for white workers were not for black workers. When Franklin Roosevelt heard about the march, he begged Randolph to call it off. Randolph refused. Mrs. Roosevelt begged him to call off the march, Randolph refused. And eventually FDR issued executive order 8802 (Fair Employment Act) banning discrimination in defense plants for blacks.
That changed the life of blacks and made me decide I was going to become a movement activist. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I’ve been so fortunate!”
The 1941 March on Washington never happened. FDR did issue an executive order, which was enacted into law as the Fair Employment Act. Randolph’s idea later came to fruition over 20 years later when he directed the 1963 March on Washington. With 250,000 people attending, it was the largest peaceful demonstration for human rights in U.S. history, and the setting for Martin Luther King Jr.’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.
The audio above features A. Philip Randolph speaking at the 1963 March on Washington. His voice is deeply sonorous and moving in its call for equality not only for the sake of African Americans, but for all people.
Thank You, Eleanor Roosevelt
Trent Gilliss, online editor
A sleepless night wandering about the Web delivered this 1949 photo of Eleanor Roosevelt holding a poster of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she considered her greatest legacy:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
After the act was passed on December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly urged all nations “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions.”
I don’t recall a poster of the Declaration ever hanging in one of my classrooms. Ashamed to admit it, I know I’ve never even read the full text of this historic document — even though I’ve watched these videos from Andy’s 60th anniversary post. So I did, and it took me less than five minutes. Five minutes! And I’m 40 years old.
I’m struck by the richness of its language — “human family,” “universal respect,” “spirit of brotherhood,” “security of person” — as I read the news about Haiti and its people, the tumultuous debate about the rights and privileges extended to homosexual couples, or the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here are a few articles that especially resonated with me:
Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Article 15. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
Article 16. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. … The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 26. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Article 29. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
Eleanor Roosevelt, chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, visits with Nasrollah Entezam, president of the fifth session of the General Assembly and Marian Anderson, American contralto, on Human Rights Day in 1950. (United Nations)