Florida native A. Philip Randolph helped initiate and direct the March on Washington in August 1963.
A. Philip Randolph, ca. 1940
Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979), the first president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was born in Crescent City, Florida, and grew up in Jacksonville. The son of a Methodist minister, he attended the City College of New York and later published The Messenger, a radical black magazine. As a result of his efforts, the 1937 contract between the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Pullman Company cut working hours, increased pay, and improved working conditions. Randolph was also a major factor in ending discrimination in defense plants and segregation in the U.S. military.
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters convention in Washington, D.C., 1950s. Membership included African-American porters and maids who worked on the railway trains.
Fifty years ago this summer, Randolph helped initiate and direct the March on Washington – the largest civil rights demonstration in American history. Randolph first called for a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol in 1941 to protest employment discrimination. He played an instrumental role in the months leading up to the 1963 demonstration as the elder statesman of the “Big Six,” which included Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders from the largest civil rights organizations in the U.S. Randolph helped unite the various groups behind the common message of jobs and freedom.
Civil rights activists in Fort Lauderdale challenged de facto segregation with a series of “wade-in” demonstrations in the summer of 1961.
Segregation impacted all aspects of daily life for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. From movie theaters and lunch counters to swimming pools and beaches, state and local governments across the United States enforced laws predicated on the “separate but equal” clause established by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
Civil rights activists challenged legal and de facto segregation using non-violent strategies championed by organizations such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). One particularly Floridian method used by demonstrators was the “wade-in.”
The photograph above shows activists participating in a wade-in demonstration at a Fort Lauderdale beach on July 24, 1961. The wade-ins, which lasted six weeks, helped end de facto segregation at all Broward County’s beaches. A state court judge refused to enter an injunction against the NAACP stopping the wade-ins a year after they began.
The city of St. Augustine became a battleground in the Civil Rights Movement during the summer of 1964.
Demonstrators held several nonviolent “wade-ins” at segregated hotel pools and beaches. This film shows footage taken by the Florida Highway Patrol of one of the largest demonstrations, a wade-in held at St. Augustine Beach on June 25, 1964 (see full-length version).
Civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., came to northeast Florida to show their support for the Movement. King is said to have remarked that St. Augustine was “the most segregated city in America” at the time. He pledged to defeat segregation using nonviolence, even “if it takes all summer.”
To learn more, see Dan R. Warren, If It Takes All Summer: Martin Luther King, the KKK, and States’ Rights in St. Augustine, 1964 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008).
On May 26, 1956, two female students from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, sat down in the “whites only” section of a segregated bus in the city of Tallahassee. When they refused to move to the “colored” section at the rear of the bus, the driver pulled into a service station and called the police. Tallahassee police arrested Jakes and Patterson and charged them with “placing themselves in a position to incite a riot.”
In the days immediately following these arrests, students at FAMU organized a campus-wide boycott of city buses. Their collective stand against segregation set an example that propelled like-minded Tallahassee citizens into action. Soon, news of the boycott spread throughout the community.
Reverend C. K. Steele at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, Tallahassee, January 3, 1957
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed each year on the third Monday of January, near Dr. King’s birthday (January 15, 1929).
Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr. in Saint Augustine, Florida (1964)
Dr. King led and participated in countless demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement. Two films from the collections of the State Library and Archives of Florida contain footage of Dr. King from demonstrations in St. Augustine, Florida, and Selma, Alabama.
Florida Memory is funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Florida Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services.