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Sometimes, Don Quixote wins

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Some people thought A. Philip Randolph was crazy in 1930 when he turned down a job offer from New York City’s mayor, Fiorello La Guardia.

Randolph’s union of black railroad workers, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was in such dire straits that hungry organizers camped out in his office. And the Great Depression had just begun.

“Phil,” the mayor said, “you have holes in your shoes. It will take a lifetime to organize the porters. Take a job with the city. You need to eat and pay your rent. You can organize while you work for the city.”

Randolph turned down the job, saying he already had one. Within seven years, his single-mindedness yielded not only a powerful new union but a series of federal labor laws to back it up and a shiny new contract with the Pullman Co. It was the first contract ever signed between a black employees’ union and a large American company.

La Guardia hailed Randolph, who became a headliner.

“No labor leadership in America has faced greater odds,” added the Urban League. “None has won a greater victory.”

— Adapted from A. Philip Randolph: Integration in the Workplace, Sarah Wright, Silver Burdett Press.

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