One of the most prominent figures of the American civil rights movement grew up right here in Jacksonville.
A. Philip Randolph was born in 1889 in the small Northeast Florida town of Crescent City, FL. He was just two years old when his family moved to Jacksonville.
In Jax, Randolph experienced a dichotomous world. He and his family lived in East Jacksonville, a thriving, predominantly African-American neighborhood and was a star student and athlete. But outside the relative comfort of East Jacksonville, he lived in a segregated city with residents who treated African-Americans with disdain at best and violence at worst.
Despite his impressive academic resume, Randolph couldn’t find a meaningful job in Jacksonville. Pursuing higher education wasn’t a realistic option in the South either.
By the time he was 22, he left Jacksonville and moved to Harlem seeking new opportunities.
It was there that he began his involvement in politics. He co-founded a magazine, The Messenger, that became highly influential among black Americans. He twice ran – unsuccessfully – for public office in New York. He helped organize and lead several worker unions, seeking to improve conditions for black workers.
Through his activism for black workers, Randolph became a prominent voice in favor of African-American rights. In 1941, he successfully pressured President Franklin D. Roosevelt into barring discrimination within the nation’s defense industries via executive order by threatening a massive march on Washington, D.C.
In the ‘50s, Randolph became friends with another major civil rights era figure, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Randolph worked with King and other leaders to plan a series of rallies in key cities.
Those rallies culminated in Randolph and fellow activist Bayard Rustin organizing the march that Randolph himself had threatened back in ’41. The 1963 March on Washington advocated for freedom and job opportunities for black Americans. It drew over 200,000 participants to the nation’s capital and featured Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The march was a key factor in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and among the most influential political movements in American history.
By the time of Randolph’s death in 1979, he had helped bring about landmark changes and reforms through his activism and was able to see a less divided America.
Though most of Jax wasn’t kind to him during his time here, the city has honored him in the years since his death. Florida Avenue in East Jacksonville was renamed A. Philip Randolph Boulevard in his honor, as was A. Philip Randolph Heritage Park. He is arguably the most significant figure in American history with strong ties to Jacksonville.