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image shows a man with a mustache from the chest up in the company uniform with oat and a billed cap that says Pullman Porter
Pullman porter at the Union Station in Chicago (Jack Delano, photographer - Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information photograph collection/Library of Congress)

A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Featured in “This Month in Business History”

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This guest post was authored by 2023 Junior Fellow Hannah Meyer. Hannah is pursuing a graduate degree in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This summer, I worked in the Science, Technology and Business Division on a project to add diversity to the business history record. As part of that project, I wrote two new entries for the “This Month in Business History” research guide, which draw attention to the role of African Americans in the labor movement.

a porter in dark pants and a white jacket standing on train steps looking right down the platform
Pullman porter waiting for train to start (Jack Delano, photographer – Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information photograph collection/Library of Congress)

The first entry focuses on the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was founded on August 25, 1925. This was a labor union that served porters working for the Pullman Company. The porters initially hired by the Pullman Company were primarily formerly enslaved men. Although it took years, Pullman porters eventually won a variety of workplace improvements and became the first African American union to be chartered by the American Federation of Labor. Many members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, such as E.D. Nixon and C.L. Dellums, were also influential figures in the civil rights movement.

men are standing mostly shoulder to shoulder
Meeting at the Oval Office after the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Featured (left to right): Willard Wirtz (Secretary of Labor); Floyd McKissick (CORE); Mathew Ahmann (National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice); Whitney Young (National Urban Leage); Martin Luther King, Jr.(SCLC); John Lewis (SNCC); Rabbi Joachim Prinz (American Jewish Congress); A. Philip Randolph, with Reverend Eugene Carson Blake partially visible behind him; President John F. Kennedy; Walter Reuther (labor leader), with Vice President Lyndon Johnson partially visible behind him; and Roy Wilkins (NAACP) (Warren K. Leffler, photographer – U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection/Library of Congress)

The second entry provides a brief biography of A. Philip Randolph, the founding president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Randolph was the editor of a socialist periodical that he used to raise awareness of the Pullman porter cause. Randolph also played a major role in the civil rights movement, as one of the co-organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. In addition, he influenced President Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman to desegregate the defense industry and the military.

I hope that these two entries can bring awareness to both the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and A. Philip Randolph. Each guide provides a biography/organizational profile as well as a variety of print and digital resources on the topic. Although these entries are not exhaustive, they provide a good introduction to the subject and a starting point for further research.


  1. Thank you for writing these entries. They chronicle important players and eras in African-American history, and are valuable for my own research.

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