“Labor Day Since 1894’ for African Americans – Worker’s Rights Were Delayed

For African Americans, A. Phillip Randolph is the father of our inclusion and ascension to power within the American labor movement. It took until 1937 to gain Collective Barging rights.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contribution’s workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

The briefcase, personal documents, and several key historic letters of civil rights icon A. Philip Randolph

However, it originated during a horrific chapter in the history of labor. The late 1800’s the average work period was 12-hour days, and no Sundays off. Children, as young as 6 years old working for lower wages in mills, factories, and mines. Health Care? If you get sick, you’re on your own.

Blood was shed as strikes were occurring all over the country, America had transformed into an industrialized nation. Death in the workplace was not uncommon, as safety regulations did not exist. There was civil unrest, in response Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday, June 28, 1894 President Grover Cleveland signed the Bill in into law.

Days after signing the legislation, Cleveland’s Federal government sent troops into Chicago disrupting the Railroad Pullman Car workers actions. The strike was violently broken, leaving 30 dead.  We were producing goods for a rapidly expanding nation and exporting our products to the world.

A. Phillip Randolph stamp

As the American Railway Union organized Pullman employees, they refused to include Black workers, excluding Porters. By 1925 the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) was formed. Organized by A. Philip Randolph, the social activist also published The Messenger a political/literary magazine. It wasn’t until 1937 that collective bargaining agreements were secured for the BSCP.

So, for African Americans, A. Phillip Randolph is the father of our inclusion and ascension to power within the American labor movement.

Porters went on to become essential in the establishment of a Black Middle class. Their legacy extends far beyond the Railroad Industry. What Porters couldn’t experience for themselves, based on seeing different people in travel; educated their children.  Porters saved and financed educations for their children and beyond. Many of our most esteemed figures in Black History were born of that legacy;  well-known persons of achievement in a variety of professions, from law (Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall), politics (San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley) and journalism (Ethel L. Payne of the Chicago Defender) to music (jazz pianist Oscar Peterson) and sports (Olympic track star Wilma Rudolph).

The next time you enjoy; an 8-hour work day, a weekend, a paid holiday, paid vacation, sick leave, pension, employer contributions/401k, employer supported health insurance, or Social Security, a life-saving worker safety regulation, thank organized labor.

Labor Day is the Worker’s Day