A. Philip Randolph, the Organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Was an Atheist

The American Humanist Association has, on its website, a nice remembrance of A. Philip Randolph, the union organizer who was central to organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of today.

Contrary to popular belief, the march wasn’t organized by King. It was the brainchild of a humanist named Asa Philip Randolph. As a union organizer and leader of the secular wing of the Civil Rights movement, Randolph had first planned the march for July 1941. It was to call for desegregation of the armed forces and fair working opportunities for people of color. Alarmed by organizing efforts leading up to the event, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee and desegregating the civilian war industries. So Randolph called the march off but continued his pioneering work with nonviolent civil confrontation—developing techniques that would later be adopted by King.

Then two decades later, in December 1962, Randolph and Bayard Rustin began planning the historic gathering we all know, with Randolph as march director and opening speaker…

Randolph went on to accept the Humanist of the Year Award from the American Humanist Association in 1970 and sign Humanist Manifesto II in 1973. So on this significant anniversary, when we think of the struggles of those who worked for change, let us include in our memories one of the great humanists of the twentieth century, Asa Philip Randolph.

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, Tim Carmody‘s piece on the significance of the March is just fantastic.

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