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Leaders Of The Labor Movement

A. Philip Randolph  (1889-1979)

On this day in 1926, A. Philip Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black labor union. As the union’s president, Randolph became a leader in the civil rights movement. He continued to play a significant role in the movement after it focused on the goal of ending state-sanctioned racial segregation.


Under Randolph’s direction, the union enrolled 51 percent of railroad porters within a year. The Pullman Co. responded with threats of mass firings amid occasional violence. After failing to gain mediation under the Watson-Parker Railway Labor Act in 1928, Randolph planned a strike. When rumors circulated that Pullman had 5,000 replacement workers ready to take the place of union members, the walkout faltered. Membership in the union dropped by half.


The union’s fortunes changed with the election victory of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Under amendments to the Railway Labor Act in 1934, porters were granted new rights under federal law. Membership in the Brotherhood rose to more than 7,000. The Pullman Co. agreed to negotiate with the union in 1935 and signed a contract with it in 1937. The accord gained employees some $2 million in pay increases, a shorter workweek and overtime pay.


Randolph led the March on Washington Movement, which lasted from 1933 to 1947. In 1941, Randolph helped persuade President Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in defense industries during World War II. After the war, Randolph pressured President Harry S. Truman to issue Executive Order 9981, which ended segregation in the armed services in 1948.


In 1963, Randolph headed the March on Washington, an interracial rally on the National Mall at which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.


Amtrak has named Superliner II Deluxe Sleeper 32503 the “A. Philip Randolph” in his honor.



Ford, James W. (1893-1957)

James W. Ford was Special Organizer of the Communist Party's Harlem section and the most prominent black Communist in the nation during the 1930s and early 1940s. Perhaps more than any other figure, Ford symbolized the Party's efforts to build a united front between African Americans and the white working class.


Ford was born into a middle-class home in Chicago in 1903. He attended Fisk University, where he was a star athlete and active in the campus politics. After graduation, he served in France during World War I. In many ways an unlikely candidate for future leadership in the Communist Party, Ford's radicalization began after the war when his efforts to find a job commensurate with his education were frustrated by racial discrimination. He settled for a position at the Chicago Post Office, joined the Postal Workers Union, and shortly thereafter the Communist Party.


Ford rose quickly in Party ranks during a period when the CP was placing increased emphasis on promoting black leaders. He joined the American Negro Labor Congress in 1926 and sojourned in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s. In 1929, he was chosen to head the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers and a year later became head of the Negro Department of the Trade Union Unity League. In 1932 he joined William Z. Foster on the CP's presidential ticket, becoming the first African American to be nominated for Vice President of the United States. He would run alongside CP presidential nominee Earl Browder in 1936 and again in 1940.


Both admired and reviled for his strict adherence to Party orthodoxy, Ford's arrival in Harlem as section organizer in 1933 signaled a critical shift in the internal politics of the Harlem CP. His mandate was to rein in the pioneering generation of black Communists led by Cyril Briggs and Richard Moore, whom the CP Central Committee believed were ignoring the white working class in favor of more race-conscious revolutionary nationalism. While avoiding an open breach with preexisting leaders, Ford nevertheless managed to push them out of positions of influence. Despite the controversy engendered by Ford's arrival, the Harlem Party grew tremendously under his watch. Ford was instrumental in the founding of the National Negro Congress in 1936 and directed the Harlem Party in a variety of campaigns, including the defense of the Scottsboro Nine and major protests against employment and housing discrimination.


Sources:Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem during the Depression (Chicago:  University of Illinois Press, 1983), 95-111, passim; Mark Soloman, The Cry Was Unity:  Communists and African Americans, 1917-1936 (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1998), 216-217, passim

Hosea Hudson was a Communist Party (CP) activist and industrial union organizer in Alabama and Georgia during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. He embodied the CP's turn toward black civil rights in the early 1930s and the attraction many working-class southern blacks felt toward the Party during and, in Hudson's case, well after the Depression decade.


Hudson was born in rural Wilkes County, Georgia in 1898.The son of sharecroppers and the grandson of a former slave, he endured poverty and hunger as a child and received little formal education. He married in 1917, had his first and only child a year later, and worked for several years as a sharecropper and common laborer in Wilkes County and Atlanta. In 1924 Hudson moved his family to Birmingham where he found work as an iron molder.


In 1931 Hudson's life took a dramatic turn when, inspired by the International Labor Defense's highly publicized campaign to free the Scottsboro Nine, he joined the Communist Party. Fired from his job for his political associations, Hudson spent several months in New York at a Party training school where he learned to read and write. He returned to the South in 1934 and for two years worked as Party organizer in Atlanta. Back in Birmingham in 1937, Hudson became vice-president of the WPA's Workers Alliance, established the Right to Vote Club to educate poor blacks on disenfranchisement and proper voting procedures, and served as vice-president of the Alabama People's Educational Association. From 1942-1947 Hudson was president of the CIO's United Steel Workers Local 2815 and a delegate to the Birmingham Industrial Union Council.


Post-war anticommunism took a toll on Hudson after 1947. He was expelled from the Birmingham Industrial Union Council and fired from his job because of his ties to the CP. From 1950-1954 Hudson operated "underground" as a covert Party organizer throughout the South. In 1954 he moved to New York City where he found work as a janitor. He retired in 1965 and settled in Atlantic City. In 1972 he published an autobiography, Black Worker in the Deep South. Hudson remained a devoted member of the Communist Party until his death in 1988.


Sources:Nell Irvin Painter, The Narative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979); Hosea Hudson, Black Worker in the Deep South: A Personal Record (New York: International Publishers, 1972); Robin D.G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe:  Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1990).

Blackwell, Lucien E. (1931- )

Lucien E. Blackwell, U.S. Congressman and labor official, was born in Whitset, Pennsylvania.  He attended West Philadelphia High School, but left before obtaining his diploma.  Blackwell also served in the United States Armed Forces during the Korean War, and received the National Defense Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, and the Good Conduct Medal.  Lucien Blackwell lacked formal higher education, but he persevered through the “school of hard knocks.”  He first found employment working on the waterfront of Philadelphia.  Beginning as an unskilled laborer, he gradually moved up to foreman, and then vice president, business agent and eventually, in 1973, president of Local 1332, International Longshoreman’s Association of the AFL-CIO.  Blackwell served in this capacity until 1991.  


Blackwell also served as Chairman of the Philadelphia Gas Commission.  He made history by rejecting three requests by the Philadelphia Gas Works to increase gas rates.  These rejections prompted Philadelphia Gas to reorganize and reduce its management operations for the first time in the history of the Philadelphia utility.In 1972 Blackwell was elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature.


Blackwell also engaged in a very public fast for six weeks to call attention to the inadequate maintenance of housing projects by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. During his tenure Blackwell also ran for mayor twice, in 1979 and 1991, but was defeated on both occasions.When 2nd District Congressman William H. Gray resigned his office to become president of the United Negro College Fund in September 1991, Blackwell entered the race to replace him.  Blackwell won a special House election on November 5, 1991 and pronounced that he would “not become a big shot” and he “hoped God will rip out my eyes and pull out my tongue and throw it to the four winds” if he ever failed to adhere to the people’s needs.  In the Congress, Blackwell sat on the Public Works and Transportation and the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee and the Sub-committee on Economic Development, where he was vice chairman.  Blackwell was also appointed by President Bill Clinton to a special task force to deal with the “crisis of hopelessness” in the nation.


Blackwell also developed a reputation in Congress as an ardent supporter of national health care reform and of tougher laws against illegal drug traffickers and users.  In the regular election in 1992, Blackwell won a full term, defeating Secretary of State C. Delores Tucker by a margin of 54% to 46%.  Two years later, Chaka Fattah, a charismatic member of the Pennsylvania Senate, who had lost to Blackwell in the special election of 1991, challenged the incumbent Blackwell.  Although Blackwell had the endorsements of Philadelphia mayor (and now Pennsylvania Governor) Ed Rendell and Council President John Street, Fattah was endorsed by the Black Clergy of Pennsylvania and by influential state senator Hardy Williams.  In the 1994 election, Fattah defeated Blackwell by a margin of 58% to 42% of the votes cast.


Sources:Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots” Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), pp. 26-28.

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