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Roi Ottley, The New Republic
November 10, 1941

To procure jobs in the defense industries, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, called upon Negroes, in May, 1941, to ìmarch onto Washington.î ìThe administration leaders in Washington,î he told the writer at that time, ìwill never give the Negro justice until they see masses—ten, twenty, fifty thousand Negroes on the White House lawn!î The Negro public agreed, and responded immediately. Both the NAACP and the National Negro Congress supported the march actively. Walter White brought his influence and prestige of the movement. Thousands of dollars were spent. Press and pulpit played decisive roles in building up sentiment. The Pullman Porters became couriers, carrying the word to Negro communities throughout the country.

The March was scheduled to take place on July 1, 1941. A demonstration involving upwards of fifty thousand Negroes in the nationís capital was filled with danger, and the administration recognized its gravity. Four days before the appointed day, Randolph was summoned to Washington. The administration leaders made new pledges and persuaded him to call off the march. A few days later President Roosevelt, in a public statement, broadly condemned racial intolerance and urged the country to drop its bars against the employment of racial minorities.

The masses of Negroes were bewildered by the sudden turn of events; indeed, many of Randolphís own colleagues were disgruntled by the easy conclusion of the affair. Nothing tangible had been gained, they felt. The recent incidents at the army camps and the chronic, acute unemployment bear them out. Randolph lost much prestige as a leader. And Negroes now appear to be taking the situation into their own hands and stampeding their leaders, with the result that newer and younger men now are taking the helm.

Selected from the Library of America anthology.  See  Reporting  Civil  Rights:  American Journalism 1941-1963.