Oral History
A TREMENDOUS FORCE
A. Philip Randolph

"The Reminiscences of Dr. A. Philip Randolph," interview by Wendell Wray (New York: Columbia University Oral History Office, 18 July 1972), 130–36.
Courtesy of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Oral History Collection of Columbia University

Randolph: . . . this great leader from the West Indies, you know—very good friend of mine he became—he wanted that he and myself should go to the Peace Conference. What was his name? This is a man I spent a lot of time with, and I just can't call his name . . . The Garvey movement.

Q: Oh, Marcus Garvey.

Randolph: I just thought of him now. I was trying to think of the name Garvey. Now, how would I be at a point where I couldn't think of Garvey's name? I spent a lot of time wit him, you know. But of course we were not intellectually of the same type, and same concerns and so forth. He wanted to go to Africa. He built the Garvey movement and he built it on the basis of race, and—but, of course, I was a Socialist.

 Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division



Q: But you attacked him pretty strongly in the Messenger.

Randolph: That's right. I didn't believe that this was the proper approach to the thing. But he and I were friendly. He had a big tent. It wasn't a tent but a wooden place where he held his meetings every night, and he had a powerful voice. I first met him on the corner of 135th Street and Lenox Avenue. I had a soapbox meeting there, and he came, was standing in the crowd.

One man came to me and said, "Mr. Randolph, there's a man in the audience here who would like to have you introduce him to this group." It was a powerful group, you know, a street-corner meeting where you tell everything you think about and so forth—must be anti-everything.

So he came up and I asked him, "Where are you from?"

He said, "Jamaica, West Indies."

"Do you have a movement there?"

He said, "Yes." "You want to build a movement here, do you?"

He said, "Yes, that's my purpose."

He said, "I'd appreciate it if you would introduce me to this audience and permit me to make a few remarks."

I said, "All right, I'd be glad to." So I got up and told the people in our audience we have a young man from Jamaica, West Indies, who is one of the militant black fighters for social and racial justice, and he said he'd appreciate my introducing him to you. I'm happy to do that, and I want to let him know now that there's no limit to the time he may take, as long as you're willing to stay here and listen to him.

He had a tremendous voice. He was a short fellow, and there were many of his group there. There was another man there—he was a Socialist. In fact, he was a Socialist before I was. He was known as the street orator and philosopher. I've forgotten his name, but it'll come to me. I introduced him, and he began speaking about the need for the peoples of color of the world, the black people, going back to Africa to build an empire, to help the people build an empire there, so that we will no longer be exploited and abused by the white race. And the people there were very militant-minded, you know, on the corner. He said, "I had a movement in Jamaica and I want to build the same type of movement here, and we will plan a center, and we will build a great force for racial justice in this country and the world."

So he spoke for quite a while, and afterwards we were right near a drugstore that had a fountain in it, and we'd go back in the place there and sit and talk, after the meetings. We carried him back and he talked at length. He said he wanted to build some kind of hall where he could hold nightly meetings, and he finally did it. He built a place on 136th Street, Abyssinia Baptist Church, and he held meetings there every night. He wanted himself and myself to go to the Peace Conference, but we never worked it out. I don't think they would be interested in him going there any more than they were interested in my going there, because he was super-racial, and—but we never went. We differed on the philosophy of racial and social change, see, he being not a Socialist, just a fighter for racial justice, which of course was a big thing, and important thing. And Chandler, who was my co-worker, he didn't think that Garvey was qualified intellectually to build a movement of such vast dimensions which he described, and then Chandler, too, believed in integration, see, and Garvey believed in the organization of Negroes by Negroes for Negroes and nobody else.

So there was that difference. And Chandler, however, who was a sort of a natural satirist—he could make people uneasy, you know, by his tongue. He was quite a talker, and so he and Garvey had many conflicts, and there were some others, too. But I never brought any of my anti-Garvey movements on the street corners, although I would talk about Socialism, Communism, and also the march of the black man forward, because I didn't think we ought to have any division between the groups on the streets. The people aren't able to understand it, you know.

Anyway, we had a little forum, too, in the Lafayette building, and W. A. Domingo—who also wrote for Messenger, and a very brilliant mind—he had what is known as an imports business here, and he made quite a bit of money. He came from Jamaica, too. A fine character. He and Chandler Owen were friendly, you know, but they differed on certain things.

Q: Was Domingo a follower of Garvey?

Randolph: Domingo was not wholly a follower of Garvey, but he believed that Garvey should be helped, and he was one of the editors of the Negro Word, which Garvey published. Domingo was sort of with Chandler Owen, while they differed, Chandler liked him, and he liked Chandler.

So the Garvey movement became a force not only in New York but throughout the country—perhaps one of the biggest movements that ever developed among Negroes in the country.

Q: A close associate of his, you were. You introduced him for the first time really to a street audience?

Randolph: A close associate of his—yes, that's right.

Q: What was the feeling you had that would have given him this charisma, that would have turned this whole thing on? Did you know him personally? What was it?

Randolph: Well, I never met a Negro before who had the power to organize a movement of such vast dimensions as Garvey did.

Q: Did he have the intellect to do it? Was he a schemer, a planner?

Randolph: He had the spiritual quality about him that enabled him to get into the life and mind and spirit of the Negro, that I don't think we've had another person just like him around the country for a long time. And he made quite a name for himself, and he made a mark, because I don't know anyone who could marshal the people as he did, and have these people stand up for social and racial progress, as Garvey did. Chandler and a number of other young Negroes in the community threw their luck with him, and he spent quite a bit of time trying to help him build the Garvey movement. The Garvey movement became a tremendous force in the country.

There was another man that worked with him, and he developed a paper, and held movements, held meetings, mass meetings on the street corners. I've forgotten his name just now, but he played quite a role in the life of Negroes, in New York especially. I spent some time with him, and he knew Mrs. Walker, Mme. C. J. Walker, and he wanted Mrs. Walker to help him and myself get to the Peace Conference. But I never got that far, although I wanted to see him make headway for his cause, and it was one of the big movements of the nation. But it was a little too big, in a sense, for one with the means he had to go forward with, and for that reason, it didn't flourish, to the extent that he had plotted and planned.

Q: You've seen in the last sixty years, known, all the great black leaders. How is it that his force was so—?

Randolph: Yes—well, he came from a place where he had a movement comparable to that he was going to establish here, and he spent a lot of time with Negro leaders, trying to build this movement he had in mind. He had a big sort of a—well, he had hundreds of people that came to his meetings nightly, hundreds of people and, I suppose, eventually thousands, and he believed and hoped that it would be possible for him to marry many of these people to Africa. He had articles written in his paper to that effect. But, of course, he never could get that many people to go to Africa, nor was he able to get the money to pay for it, but he had the idea, the dream.

Q: Was it the fact that he approached common people, that he could talk to the everyday man on the street? Was he a spellbinder? Did you ever go to any of those meetings to see how he worked an audience?

Randolph: Sure, I went to them.

Q: You were a great speaker yourself. What was his technique with a crowd?

Randolph: Well, he had a terrific voice, powerful voice. It carried outside the meeting place where he was carrying on his meetings. And he was able to spellbind people. He had a spellbinding quality about his voice, and the people bowed to him. They'd never found anybody just like him before. And so he did succeed in building quite a movement, and people put thousands and thousands of dollars in it.