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A. Philip Randolph, The Call to Negro America to March on Washington, 1941

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Guiding Question: To what extent did Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice become a reality for African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century?

  • I can interpret primary sources related to Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice in the first half of the twentieth century.
  • I can explain how laws and policy, courts, and individuals and groups contributed to or pushed back against the quest for liberty, equality, and justice for African Americans.
  • I can create an argument using evidence from primary sources.
  • I can analyze issues in history to help find solutions to present-day challenges.

Essential Vocabulary

Porter A person who carries others’ luggage, such as on a

Building Context

Throughout World War II, African Americans routinely experienced discrimination in government agencies and the military, which were strictly segregated. In early 1941, A. Philip Randolph, the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatened to lead a peaceful march of 10,000 African Americans on Washington, DC, to demand an end to racial segregation in the government, especially the military, and to call for greater equality in the hiring practices of the defense industries. He released the following statement to explain his purpose and goals. President Franklin Roosevelt then issued Executive Order #8802, creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), which sought to end discrimination in government hiring, and Randolph canceled the march. Though the Executive Order affected federal hiring, the military remained segregated until 1948. The Order also did not affect the private sector.

A. Philip Randolph, The Call to Negro America to March on Washington, 1941

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Dear fellow Negro Americans, be not dismayed by these terrible times. You possess power, great power. Our problem is to harness and hitch it up for action on the broadest, daring and most gigantic scale.


In this period of power politics, nothing counts but pressure, more pressure, and still more pressure, through the tactic and strategy of broad, organized, aggressive mass action behind the vital and important issues of the Negro. To this end, we propose that ten thousand Negroes MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS IN NATIONAL DEFENSE AND EQUAL INTEGRATION IN THE FIGHTING FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES.


An “all-out” thundering march on Washington, ending in a monster and huge demonstration at Lincoln’s Monument will shake up white America.


It will shake up official Washington.


It will give encouragement to our white friends to fight all the harder by our side, with us, for our righteous cause.


It will gain respect for the Negro people.


It will create a new sense of self-respect among Negroes.


But what of national unity?


We believe in national unity which recognizes equal opportunity of black and white citizens to jobs in national defense and the armed forces, and in all other institutions and endeavors in America. We condemn all dictatorships, Fascist, Nazi and Communist. We are loyal, patriotic Americans all.


But if American democracy will not defend its defenders; if American democracy will not protect its protectors; if American democracy will not give jobs to its toilers because of race or color; if American democracy will not insure equality of opportunity, freedom and justice to its citizens, black and white, it is a hollow mockery and belies the principles for which it is supposed to stand. . .

Comprehension and Analysis Questions

  1. How does Randolph describe national unity?
  2. Consider the challenges of demanding reforms within the government during a time of war. How do you think this hurdle affected Randolph’s writing and his actions?