Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Labor Movement

Topics: Pullman Company, Sleeping car, George Pullman Pages: 11 (4152 words) Published: November 11, 2013
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters it’s Affect on the Labor and Civil Rights Movement

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was a labor union organized by African American employees of the Pullman Company in August 1925 and led by A. Philip Randolph and Milton P. Webster. This paper will discuss the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) founders, the issues that caused its fight for organization and recognition, the Pullman Company, the American Federation of Labor and the affect on the labor movement and the affect on the civil rights movement. First let’s examine the beginning of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and its leadership. The beginning there were three Pullman porters, considered exemplary representatives of the field, chose to take a risk against the odds. Ashley Totten, Roy Lancaster, and William Des Verney they decided the Pullman porters needed a union. There is nothing to be found on the background of Roy Lancaster, and William Des Verney. Ashley L. Totten was born in Frederiksted, St Croix on October 11 1884. As an adult in 1915 he departed for New York City, he served in the US Navy as a bugler on the USS Algonquin before he started working as a porter for the Pullman Company. In the summer of 1925, New York’s black porters were persuaded that they needed a union. Something had to be done about the Pullman Company’s treatment of its black porters, and leaders were needed to take them into arenas beyond the reach of the company’s reprisals. Then a small group of porters held a number of secret meetings and worked out plans for founding a union. Their plans were formalized and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was organized in the Elks Hall in the Harlem section of New York City on August 25, 1925. Later, Asa Phillip Randolph was named general organizer of the union. Other officers were William H. Des Verney, vice-president and assistant organizer; Roy Lancaster, secretary-treasurer; and Ashley Totten, assistant organizer. Their motto or password was “solidarity,” which they called the key to freedom of the oppressed and exploited races and classes, and the group’s sign was a clinched left fist with arm extended downward, denoting that justice and freedom will come only through a fight. Asa Phillip Randolph gave the union leadership and direction. “A. Phillip Randolph was born April 15, 1889, in Crescent City, Florida, the second son of the Rev. James William Randolph, a tailor and minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Elizabeth Robinson Randolph, a skilled seamstress. In 1891 the family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, which had a thriving, well-established African-American community.” (Pfeffer, 2000) From his father, Randolph learned that color was less important than a person's character and conduct. From his mother, he learned the importance of education and of defending oneself physically against those who would seek to hurt one or one's family, if necessary. Randolph remembered vividly the night his mother sat in the front room of their house with a loaded shotgun across her lap, while his father tucked a pistol under his coat and went off to prevent a mob from lynching a man at the local county jail. A. Phillip Randolph was a superior student. He attended the Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville, the only academic high school in Florida for African Americans. “A. Phillip Randolph excelled in literature, drama and public speaking; he also starred on the school's baseball team, sang solos with its choir and was valedictorian of the 1907 graduating class.” (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia) After graduation, Randolph worked odd jobs and devoted his time to singing, acting and reading. Reading W. E. B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk convinced him that the fight for social equality was most important. Barred by discrimination from all but manual jobs in the South, Randolph moved to New York City in 1911, where he worked at odd jobs and...

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Pfeffer, Paula F. (2000). Randolph; Asa Philip. American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 3 Oct 2013.
Salvatore, Nick. Schneirov, Richard. Stromquist, Shelton. (1999). The Pullman Strike and Crisis of 1890s: Essays on Labor and Politics. U. of Illinois Press.
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