Niagara Gazette — While most of the attention in Washington, D.C., Wednesday focused on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have Dream” speech,” there was hardly any mention of another black often overlooked in the relentless struggles for civil rights.
A. Philip Randolph, who headed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car porters, a black labor union, carried the torch more than 70 years ago when he threatened to organize some 100,000 African-Americans for a march on Washington. Randolph explained at the time it would be to protest discrimination in the armed forces and the nation’s defense industries. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was acutely aware that such a massive protest would prove how divided the country was amidst the preparations for a world war.
In his opinion page article in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Moreno, an author and history professor at Hillsdale College, noted that New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia helped structure a compromise by which Randolph agreed to withdraw his demands on military desegregation and postpone the march. In turn, FDR signed Executive Order 8802 that immediately outlawed racial discrimination throughout the defense industries.
Moreno credits Randolph with the insight to realize that the looming World War II offered an opportunity to improve U.S. race relations.
Randolph and his fellow civil rights organizers played a decisive role in the black Americans’ campaign to defeat fascism abroad and racism at home. That they were effective is evident by the numbers: NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) membership soared to 450,000 from 50,000 during the war.
It’s just a foot note in history, but Randolph delivered the opening remarks that day in 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. made that historic speech on the same site where President Obama spoke Wednesday.
TAKING A TOLL: When Obama started his first term, 79 percent of whites and 63 percent of blacks said they thought race relations were good in America, according to polling by Hart Research Associations and Public Opinion Strategies, Today, 53 percent of whites feel that way; the number of blacks with a favorable view of race relations has dropped to 38 percent.