The Man Who Pulled: TV Documentary Puts Legacy of Labor Leader and Civil Rights Activist A. Philip Randolph Back on the Right Track

By Chenoweth, Karin | Black Issues in Higher Education, January 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Man Who Pulled: TV Documentary Puts Legacy of Labor Leader and Civil Rights Activist A. Philip Randolph Back on the Right Track


Chenoweth, Karin, Black Issues in Higher Education


The Man Who Pulled: TV Documentary Puts Legacy of Labor Leader and Civil. Rights Activist A. Philip Randolph Back on the Right Track

It would be hard to overstate the importance of A. Philip Randolph to the last century of American history. It would also be hard to overstate the deep shadow into which his memory has faded.

The man who exacted justice from the federal government, the labor movement and, ultimately, the nation, for Black Americans; the man who single-handedly caused the conditions under which a Black middle class could form; the man who was the wellspring for the modern civil rights movement -- this man has been largely forgotten by the general public.

When children study Black History month, they rarely hear about Randolph. Even their teachers have often never heard of him.

Public television will begin to remedy that widespread ignorance with a new, 90-minute film titled. "A. Philip Randolph: For Jobs and Freedom." Airing February 2 (check local listings), it uses archival photos and footage, audio interviews with Randolph from the 1960s and interviews with scholars and contemporaries in the labor and civil rights movements.

Produced and directed by Dante J. James, whose previous work includes the PBS series, "America's War on Poverty: The Great Depression" and written by Juan Williams, author of "Eyes on the Prize -- America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965," the film promises to be a major contribution to Randolph's story.

The film "is a really unique opportunity," said Norman Hill, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which was founded to carry on Randolph's work. He said that he is encouraging Randolph Institute affiliates to hold viewing parties and receptions with local NAACP branches on the day the film airs as a way to gain as wide a viewership as possible.

"No other person simultaneously was both an outstanding labor and civil rights leader," said Hill. "Randolph's impact on the U.S. labor movement, the civil rights struggle and the evolution of the country deserves great recognition."

Roger Wilkins, who is on the board of WETA, the Washington public television station that sponsored the film, said that Randolph's story is "absolutely relevant to today and his story is too little told."

"You can talk all that morality stuff," said Wilkins, Robinson Professor of History and American Culture at George Mason University (VA). "But what Randolph knew was that a person cannot be free without the capacity to make their way and provide for their families. …

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