Asa Philip Randolph believed that the key to African American equality was economics, which led him to develop a number of organized alliances and publications intended to improve the circumstances of blacks in the workforce. His efforts to unite exploited and underpaid black workers eventually resulted in the formation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in the mid-1920s, and in his acceptance as a spokesman for civil rights. Later in life, his vacillation between promoting both integration and racial exclusivity engendered disdain from Black Power advocates. Even so, his impact on the American labor movement and the cause of civil rights served to inspire the next generation of leaders, who subscribed to his motto, "Rather we die standing on our feet fighting for rights than to exist upon our knees begging for life."

The Harmon Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in New York City and active from (1922-1967) included this portrait in their exhibition “Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origins” which documented noteworthy African Americans’ contributions to the country. Modeling their goal of social equality, the Harmon sought portraits from an African-American artist, Laura Wheeler Waring and Euro-American artist, Betsy Graves Reyneau. The two painters followed the conventional codes of academic portraiture, seeking to convey their sitters extraordinary accomplishments. This painting, along with a variety of educational materials, toured nation-wide for ten years serving as a visual rebuttal to racism.


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