A. Philip Randolph and the Other March on Washington

For millions of Americans, the March on Washington conjures images of leaders and events that helped to advance the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  Between Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the images of hundreds of thousands of Americans packed in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the impact the March had the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts that shortly followed, and many other noteworthy moments that occurred on the day, the 1963 March on Washington remains one of the most prominent and well-known turning points of the Civil Rights Movement.

Twenty-two years prior, a different March on Washington was being organized in order to combat different discriminatory policies against African-Americans across the country.  As the national was preparing to formally enter World War II, African-Americans were still experiencing widespread racial discrimination in connection to work opportunities.  Even as industries such as manufacturing and defense started to hire record numbers of workers–a strategy used to continue the nation’s economic recovery from the Great Depression as well as to prepare for war–African-Americans were still systematically denied employment opportunities in regions across the country.

In response, A. Philip Randolph–who had established himself as a massively influential civil rights leader for African-Americans during the previous few decades–organized a series of plans and partnerships that became known as the March on Washington Movement.  After unsuccessfully petitioning President Roosevelt to desegregate the armed forces–an order that wouldn’t be made until the war ended–Randolph began to organize a mass march in downtown Washington to protest continued discrimination against African-Americans.  Working closely with leadership from the NAACP, the Women’s Auxiliary and other notable civil rights and media organizations, Randolph organized and threatened to hold a march of over 100,000 participants in Washington to raise awareness of racial discrimination in the American workforce.          

Historians today debate whether or not he actually planned to hold a march, which never transpired.  Regardless, Randolph’s grassroots efforts did result in significant change.  In June 1941, President Roosevelt passed Executive Order 8802 to formally ban racial and ethnic discrimination in the American defense industries.  The order also established the Fair Employment Practice Committee, an independent agency that operated throughout the war to “ban discriminatory employment practices by Federal agencies and all unions and companies engaged in war-related work.”

Although it took another seven years to formally end racial discrimination in the military, Randolph’s March on Washington Movement created significant civil rights advances and validated the capabilities of grassroots activism.  Decades later, King and other civil rights leaders would continue to utilize Randolph’s strategies and visions to further advance the movements to secure and protect equal rights for African-American citizens.

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David Biel, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science

AFL-CIO Films on YouTube!

We now have 40 short films from our AFL-CIO film collection uploaded to George Meany Labor Archives playlist on the Hornbake Library YouTube channel! Many of these films were digitized as part of the “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History In America,” exhibit. This post intends to expand and explore upon a selection of films that we not only think are interesting, but also contextually relevant to the present day.

The first of these films is “CORE: Freedom Ride,” 1961, Presented by the Social Action Commission of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

Narrated by James Farmer, National Director of CORE and founder of the Freedom Rides, this film recounts the experiences of Freedom Riders shortly after the rides ended in December 1961. This film includes footage from the Freedom Rides, and testimony from Freedom Riders Jim Peck, Albert Bigelow, and Genevieve Hughes.

You can view all the videos in the George Meany Labor Archives playlist and explore more from the Labor history collections online. Have a question? Contact us!

The Civil Rights Legacy of A. Philip Randolph

When the topic of the Civil Rights Era is brought up, who is the first person you think of?

Perhaps you think of Martin Luther King Jr., for his unwavering commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience.  Maybe you think of Malcolm X, for his advocacy of black empowerment and self-sufficiency.  Maybe it’s Rosa Parks, whose leadership during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 helped to raise awareness of the civil rights struggles to a wider national and international audience.

One name that may not be immediately conjured up is Asa Philip Randolph–better known as A. Philip Randolph.  While Randolph made critical contributions to the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and ‘60s–including co-organizing the March on Washington in 1963–his impact on the fight for civil rights for marginalized populations spanned across many decades between the early and mid-20th century.

Born in 1889 in Northern Florida, Randolph committed his early years to excelling in academics and learning about the intersectionalities between social and economic injustices that defined the black experience throughout the country.  After moving to New York City in his early twenties, Randolph became more actively involved in the growing labor movements of the 1910s and ‘20s and utilized his positions to advocate for greater economic justice for African-Americans.  During this period, Randolph helped to open an employment office in Harlem to provide job training for black residents, including those who had recently migrated from agricultural regions of the Deep South.

Randolph continued to advocate for black labor rights through the 1930s, when he organized black-led labor unions designed to protect the rights of African-American laborers in multiple different industries, including the railway and shipping industries.  As Randolph’s stature and influence grew during this period, he solicited support for black economic and labor rights at the highest levels of power.  Just as the United States was preparing to formally enter World War II, Randolph met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 and successfully lobbied for the passage of an executive order that banned discrimination in the defense industries.  Seven years later, after the war had ended, Randolph worked with President Harry S. Truman to formally ban racial segregation in the U.S. armed forces.

While Randolph did expand his areas and methods of activism as the Civil Rights Movement came into full force, including building a close alliance with Martin Luther King, Jr. and helping to organize local civil rights marches in Washington D.C. and the South, he remained committed to his long-term mission of securing labor and economic justice for African-Americans.  In the aftermath of the March on Washington (formally titled “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”), Randolph helped to co-publish “A Freedom Budget for All Americans,” a civil rights manifesto that outlined broad, ambitious societal goals including the abolition of poverty, living wages for all workers and guaranteed housing and healthcare for all Americans.    

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David Biel, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science

New Resource: Black Writers and Artists in Special Collections

Literature and Rare Books in Special Collection and University Archives is a rich resource of works black artists and writers. Explore these items in our new subject guide on Black Writers and Artists!  

Non-fiction writing by black authors covers a wide variety of topics, including pamphlets on politics, racism, activism, and culture in our African American and African pamphlet collection. The subject guide also highlights fiction ranging from children’s books by Chinua Achebe to literary masterpieces by writers such as James Baldwin.  Contributions of black artists and printers to other parts of the bookmaking process, such as illustrators like Cledie Taylor and black owned presses like the Broadside Press, are also included.

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New Resource: 19th Century Literature Libguide

Even if you have never studied literature you are likely familiar with authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson or Charles Dickens.  While these authors may have written in different styles and about different subject matter, they were among the most notable authors of the 19th century.  To learn more about Emerson, Dickens, and other notable writers of the 19th century take a look at our new libguide on 19th Century Literature!

The libguide draws attention to some of the main collecting areas for Literature and Rare Books, such as illustrated works.  Hornbake’s holdings include a variety of different kinds of illustrated works that were popular in the 19th century, from scientific illustrations (Thomas Bewick’s woodcut portrayals of animals) to satirical illustrations (Punch Magazine).  The libguide also features highlights from our collection of 19th century literature, such as books published by Kelmscott Press, which reacted against the consumerism and mass production of the late 19th century by producing expensive, high quality books that doubled as works of art.

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Katherine Anne Porter & the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part I: The Spanish Flu

“I think of my personal history as before the plague and since the plague.” 
– Katherine Anne Porter to Alfred Crosby, 13 June 1975

An unknown illness, shortage of hospital beds, fever induced hallucinations, and growing fear about a contagious and deadly plague. All of these frightening realities take place against the backdrop of young love and the First World War in Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”  tells the story of trauma and survival during the 1918 Influenza pandemic. A masterfully written short novel woven with poetic and, at times, surreal prose, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is also a personal story for Porter, recalling her experience contracting the illness in Colorado in October 1918. With striking similarities to the current pandemic, it is a beautiful, complex, and intimate glimpse into the experience of making it through the other side of a pandemic and the First World War.

Portrait of Katherine Anne Porter taken in early spring, Texas, 1918. Katherine Anne Porter papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

In the years leading up to the 1918 influenza pandemic, Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) had already faced a tumultuous life. Born in Texas, she was largely self taught and moved often with her family following the deaths of her mother and grandmother in 1892 and 1901 respectively. She was married and divorced three times, briefly worked as a movie extra in Chicago, taught children in a Dallas hospital, and wrote for several newspapers. Although she had begun writing, she had yet to publish her work in earnest.

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“Get Out the Vote”: New Gallery Exhibition Coming Soon

As millions of voters visit the polls to cast their vote this Super Tuesday, we want to share some exciting news about the work that goes on behind the scenes in Special Collections and University Archives. Librarians are busy preparing the next gallery exhibition, to be installed in 2021, which will explore the history of voting rights in the United States. An online exhibit will be available in the Fall.

The people who have organized at the local level have been incredibly important to voters’ rights and their local stories make up the larger national story of changes to American voting rights throughout this nation’s history. “Get Out the Vote”, the upcoming exhibition will feature material from our collections that illustrate the history and stories of those who have organized to “get out the vote.”

Staging the Politics and Popular Appeal of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

Katherine Anne Porter’s story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” – the titular story of Porter’s 1939 collection – was written on the eve of World War II, but the focus of the story is the last few months of the first World War. Porter was actively involved in political discourse and social protests throughout her life – notably, Porter participated in the protests against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti – but her political positions changed. Janis Stout notes, “The scholar who seeks to construct an account of her [Porter’s] political and social views is well advised to resist the urge to find, or to impose, an undue coherence.” Despite the shifts in Porter’s political thinking, scholars like Janis Stout and Darlene Harbour Unrue argue for the importance of understanding the radical politics of Porter’s literary circle, as well as the political turbulence during her career and lifetime, in reading and engaging with her work. Stout suggests that if we read the views outlined in “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” as Porter’s own “testimony” – Miranda’s critique of World War I, the senselessness of the violence of war, the manipulation of the Liberty Bond system – we can see Porter as “fresh from the scene of a powerful experience in dissent.” If we view Porter’s story, like Stout, as her testimony critiquing war and United States’ political agenda, what then might a McCarthy-era experimental off-Broadway adaptation make of this source material? How can we read Porter’s response to this particular adaptation of her story?

Porter was disappointed with F. W. Durkee’s 1956 television adaptation of her story, as outlined in the previous post in this series, but she was thrilled the following year, when the off-Broadway production of the stage adaptation premiered. Porter was aware of the difference between her own reaction to the play and that of the critics, as she wrote to David Locher:

Did I tell you that my story Pale Horse, Pale Rider, has been made into an experimental play and is now running off-Broadway, and has had not altogether counting pre-views, twenty-nine performances as of tonight. The critics didn’t like it but somebody does, because the people keep coming in, and my friends seem to love it, and I saw it twice and thought it most impressively done, and such old pros as the critic on Variety, and Tennessee Williams, and William Saroyan and my dear friend Robert Penn Warren rushed to the rescue and are being quoted in the advertisements. So it goes on, but I think it will not last very much longer, the audience for that sort of thing is limited, and nobody expected it to go as far as it has! (30 December 1957)

Unrue, Darlene Harbour, ed. Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter: Chronicles of a Modern Woman. University Press of Mississippi, 2012. pg. 259.

Porter keeps track of the reviews of the play in her correspondence, and she also created a scrapbook of various reviews and coverage of the play, including both positive and negative press.

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Student Art History Projects

Have you ever wondered what life was like on UMD’s campus during the Vietnam War?  Or how our university handled sexual assault cases throughout the decades?  How did the Civil Rights Movement impact our campus?

Well, look no further because these five fabulous art history projects have all that information and more!

In the fall of 2018, the students in ARTH260 produced a variety of projects about activism, sexual assault gender inequalities and other important topics using research found in Special Collections.  Among these creations were four websites and a video.

Each group project was accompanied by a mixture of art, whether it was paintings, photographs or decorative flyers plucked from our very own archives, and extensive information each group researched for their topics.

umd-in-context

The homepage of “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.”

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” discusses the double-standards that women experience during their education and in the workforce.  Using yearbook photos from our archives and speaking with students, the website highlights sexist standards women are given — particularly in the mathematics and scientific fields — while men are provided with different guidelines to follow. Continue reading

May Day in the Meany Labor Archives!

Today is May Day! Also known as International Workers’ Day. May Day is considered an international labor holiday. This post highlights some of the materials in our collections related to May Day. Much of our May Day material can be found in the May Day, 1885-1986 folder in the vertical file collection, and the Haymarket folders in the Morris B. Schnapper collection!

May Day was created by a resolution initiated by American Socialists at the International Socialist Congress in Paris, France, in July of 1889. The purpose of May Day was to gain support for an eight-hour work day. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, precursor to the American Federation of Labor, and the Knights of Labor cooperated in preparing for a general strike in U.S. cities on May 1, 1886. And on that day, approximately 350,000 American workers went on strike, impacting over 11,000 businesses. Although workers in New York, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, and other cities participated, Chicago was widely considered the center of May Day agitation, largely due to Chicago being one of the few cities with broad union and radical solidarity in support of the eight-hour day.

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