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

The 1960 Protests Against Segregation at Glen Echo Park

Protesters picketing to desegregate Glenn Echo Park circa 1960. Find images in Digital Collections.

In 1960, if you were to drive by the Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland–a small town just northwest of Washington D.C. that maintained a vastly white population–you might’ve witnessed an unusual sight.  Throughout the summer of 1960, Glen Echo residents joined alongside African-American students from nearby Howard University in picketing outside the Glen Echo Amusement Park, a local institution since 1899.  Like so many other protests and boycotts across the country during this time, the purpose of this student-led demonstration was to challenge the park’s long-standing policy of denying equal access to black residents.

Modeling themselves on previously impactful protest groups like the Greensboro Four, a group of students from Howard called the “Nonviolent Action Group” worked to peacefully combat segregation in their own community.  A group of about 20 N.A.G. members arrived at the Glen Echo Amusement Park on June 30, 1960 to try to gain entrance.  After being denied access to the carousel–one of the more prominent and popular attractions at the park–the NAG members announced a protest outside the park until it allowed entrance to all residents.     

The student-led boycott of Glen Echo Park gradually grew in size over the course of the summer and garnered both local and national media attention.  The protestors attracted a significant group of supporters–including many white local residents who picketed alongside the students.  They also attracted counterprotestors, including members of the American Nazi Party who wanted to preserve the segregated park and threatened violence against the protestors.

By the winter of 1961, the boycott of Glen Echo Park garnered enough coverage to catch the attention of US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who threatened to retract the park’s federal lease unless it became fully integrated.  The federal government’s threat proved to be a major turning point for the NAG-led boycott that was about to enter its ninth month.  On March 14, 1961, Glen Echo Park owners Abraham and Sam Baker announced that, for the first time in its 52-year history, the park would be open to people of all skin colors.

Like the Greensboro sit-ins just a few months earlier, the Glen Echo protests of 1960 served as a microcosm of the civil rights campaigns and achievements that would define the decade.  Peaceful protests and united local resistance helped spur social change that is still evident today, as Glen Echo Park remains a visible and prominent attraction for residents of Glen Echo and the greater Washington D.C. communities.   

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David Biel, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

The Causes and Legacies of the UMD Black Student Protests of the 1960s-70s

Similar to the Black Lives Matters protests of today, the anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s and early-mid 1970s were frequently organized and led by young people.  Anti-war demonstrations and boycotts became commonplace on college campuses across the country throughout the Vietnam War.  And while protests weren’t necessarily restricted to students from specific backgrounds, black student activists maintained a unique perspective and set of objectives when it came to American involvement in Vietnam.

Following American military escalation in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, prominent civil rights organizations like SNCC and leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X vehemently rejected the notion that Black Americans should be required to aid the war efforts.  In 1965, SNCC issued a statement that declared: “No Black Mississippian should be fighting in Vietnam for the white man’s freedom until all the Negro people are free in Mississippi.”  In other words, many African-Americans across the country contended that they should not be required to fight and support a foreign war for democracy when their own rights were still not fully secured at home.

Despite the growing numbers of black-led protests throughout the 1960s, African-American men continued to bear the brunt of American military hardships during the war.  African-American men were much more likely to be drafted into the military compared to white men.  In 1967, 64 percent of eligible black men were drafted into war–compared to only 31 percent of eligible white men.  The casualty rate of black soldiers was also disproportionately higher.  Black soldiers were twice as likely to die in combat compared to whites.

In spite of stern opposition from university leadership and deterrence from police and National Guard troops, African-American students at University of Maryland continued to organize and hold campus protests into the early 1970s.  In addition to protesting the military draft and American escalation in southeast Asia, student activists also used the protests as opportunities to advocate for racial equality on campus.  Student protestors, including those active with the Students for a Democratic Society, demanded for the university to enroll larger numbers of students of color and hire additional faculty of color.  As doctoral student Greg Dunkel later claimed, “the connection between the struggle against racism at UMD and the struggle against the war was very significant.”    

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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

The Knapp Papers: Citizen Involvement in the Giles-Johnson Case

Racial injustice in the state of Maryland has a long, painful history. This semester, while working as a student assistant for Special Collections, I processed the Harold A. and Barbara B. Knapp papers. This archival collection sheds light on an example of this difficult history and demonstrates that everyday citizens can play a role in challenging racially-motivated law enforcement and legal decisions.

The Harold A. and Barbara B. Knapp papers document a white couple’s involvement with the Giles-Johnson Defense Committee. This volunteer group of about sixty Montgomery County citizens worked for the defense of James and John Giles and Joseph Johnson, three African-American men accused of raping a white, teenaged girl in 1961. The Knapp papers were donated by Barbara Knapp in May 2018, and complement an existing collection at UMD, the Giles-Johnson Defense Committee records. The Knapp papers collection is useful for researchers studying race relations in Maryland, sexual assault cases, and capital punishment.  The collection also provides important documentation on civil rights, citizen action, and community activism.

giles image

John Giles (left) and James Giles (right) at the Maryland Penitentiary in December 1963. Harold A. and Barbara B. Knapp papers.

The collection includes correspondence, reports, notes, legal documents, clippings, a scrapbook, and audio recordings related to the Knapps’ involvement with the Giles-Johnson case.  I rehoused the materials in acid-free folders, removed metal fasteners, and separated newspaper clippings from other papers with acid-free paper. After establishing physical control over the collection, I arranged the materials into four series: working files, Giles-Johnson legal documents, related cases, and audio recordings. I then creating a finding aid for the collection with a Historical Note, Scope and Contents Note, and series descriptions. The finding aid for the Knapp papers will eventually be available online.

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Broadcasting the Cold War Era: Five Documents from the Craig B. Fisher Papers

Between 1945 to 1960, the number of television sets in the United States skyrocketed from an estimated ten thousand to sixty million. What was once a novelty became an integral part of everyday life for the average American. By 1960, almost ninety percent of American households had at least one television and the average person watched approximately five hours of programming each day. Television became the dominant medium for information and entertainment at the same time that Americans were engaged in the Cold War against the Soviet Union and experiencing major social and cultural transformations like the civil rights movement, second-wave feminism, the emergence of youth culture, and the environmental movement. In a time of change and uncertainty, television played an important role in shaping the political and cultural landscape.

General Electric Model 9T001 television

This General Electric Model 9T001 television from the mid-1950s is currently on display in the Mass Media & Culture meeting room.

The Craig B. Fisher papers, a recently processed addition to the Mass Media & Culture collection, documents what television was like during that pivotal era. Fisher graduated from the University of Maryland in 1954, and became an accomplished television writer, producer, and director. The collection pertains to a period of his career from 1956 to 1970 when he worked for CBS and NBC. It includes research materials, notes, outlines, proposals, scripts, budgets, press clippings, and other materials related to programs in which he was a creator or contributor. During his career, he produced television shows on a broad range of subjects, including politics, social issues, history, science, and art. This post will highlight five particularly interesting documents that are representative of the Cold War era. Continue reading