On This Day: The Legacy of A. Philip Randolph


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Labor Day celebration honoring A. Philip Randolph (waving from balcony of Civic Arena), surrounded by clergy, Lower Hill District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 4, 1967, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3994 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

On this day in September 1967, labor leader and civil rights pioneer A. Philip Randolph was honored during a Labor Day Mass at the Civic Arena, where Bishop John Wright presented him with an award for his outstanding leadership in a distinguished career that spanned more than half a century. Photographer Teenie Harris was in attendance that day, covering the event for the Pittsburgh Courier, when he captured this stark black-and-white image of Randolph being welcomed by a delegation of clergy from the Pittsburgh region and beyond.

Early in his career, after a successful campaign to organize a union of elevator operators in New York City in 1917, Randolph led and organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black labor union in America. He was elected the group’s president in 1925 and went on to play a key role in the American labor movement over the next decade.

Randolph, who in 1963 helped organize the March on Washington—where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech—was an early and respected voice in the civil rights movement. In 1941, more than 20 years before he marched on Washington at King’s side, Randolph attempted to organize a similar campaign to protest racial discrimination in the American military and to bring an end to segregation.

In King, Randolph found a kindred spirit, someone who shared his belief in the power of nonviolent direct action, a hallmark of the civil rights movement. The success of the March on Washington, which attracted an estimated 200,000 people and was credited with helping to the pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, became a defining moment in Randolph’s life and career. In September 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Randolph, then 75 years old, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  

On This Day is a regular series that examines artworks, exhibitions, and events from the archives at Carnegie Museum of Art.