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The Reader's Companion to American History


The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was founded in 1925 by A. Philip Randolph and others. It was the nation's first African-American union. The new union faced opposition from their employer, George Pullman and the Pullman Company, supporters of Booker T. Washington, and craft unionists. Although the head of the American Federation of Labor (afl), William Green, supported the brotherhood's efforts, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees International claimed jurisdiction over the porters. The union did not receive an international charter until 1936, however.

In 1937 the Pullman Company gave the Brotherhood its first contract, which met some of the union's long-standing demands. It granted a reduction in the number of hours worked, a wage hike, job security, and union representation.

Ultimately the union became more prominent for its work in civil rights. Beginning in 1934 Randolph, its president, spoke at every afl convention and called for the integration of blacks in the labor movement. From his position in the afl and, after 1960, as leader of the Negro American Labor Council, Randolph fought for black people's rights. He led the March on Washington of 1941, which caused President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create the Fair Employment Practices Committee in an effort to prevent thousands of African-Americans massing in the nation's capital. Twenty years later Randolph and the brotherhood were also in the forefront of the 1963 March on Washington.

See also Labor; Marches on Washington: 1941, 1963; Randolph, A. Philip.

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