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Civil Writings

Historian and CLASS Dean Andrew Kersten’s publications recognize civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph

At one time, Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979) was a household name. As president of the all-black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), he was an embodiment of America’s multifaceted radical tradition, a leading spokesman for Black America, and a potent symbol of trade unionism and civil rights agitation for nearly half a century.

Now College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences Dean Andrew Kersten and co-author Clarence Lang, University of Kansas, have rekindled Randolph’s memory and reexamined it, allowing scholars to regard the civil rights and labor leader in new, and often competing, lights.

The collection of essays, “Reframing Randolph - Labor, Black Freedom, and the Legacies of A. Philip Randolph,” gathers for the very first time many genres of perspectives on Randolph.

“We planned to represent the diverse ways that historians have approached the importance of Randolph’s long and complex career in the main political, social, and cultural currents of 20th Century African American specifically, and 20th century U.S. history overall,” said Kersten. “The central goal of Reframing Randolph is to achieve a combination of synthetic and critical reappraisal.”

With the dissolution of the BSCP in the 1970s, the decline of organized labor since the 1980s, and the overall silencing of labor history in U.S. popular discourse, Randolph has been largely forgotten among large segments of the general public before whom he once loomed so large, Kersten said.

Andrew Kersten
Dean Andrew Kersten

Historians, however, have not only continued to focus on Randolph himself, but his role (either direct, or via his legacy) in a wide range of social, political, cultural, and even religious milieu and movements.

In a second publication due out this month, editors Kersten and David Lucander, SUNY Rockland Community College, selected over a hundred speeches and writings of Randolph in the recently published “For Jobs and Freedom” by the University of Massachusetts Press.

The documents in this primary source reader probe the breadth and depth of Randolph's social, economic, and political beliefs and leadership commitments during his path-breaking - yet often contentious - career.

Both books will help scholars continue to investigate the amazing life and work of Randolph. Of “Reframing Randolph,” Wayne State University historian Beth T. Bates said: “The collection not only reinterprets Randolph and reframes his place in history, thus complicating our understanding of Randolph in his time, but suggests ways his legacy speaks to struggles for economic and social justice in our time.” University of Massachusetts historian John Bracey stated that “For Jobs and Freedom” will “go a long way in making accessible the ideas and writings of the person who sparked both the 1941 and the 1963 Marches on Washington.”

Article by Sue Hinz, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Purchase Andrew Kersten's “Reframing Randolph” on Amazon.


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