When A. Philip Randolph assumed the leadership of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, he began a ten-year battle to win recognition from the Pullman Company, the largest private employer of Black people in the United States and the company that controlled the railroad industry`s sleeping car and parlor service. In 1935 the Brotherhood became the first Black union recognized by a major corporation. Randolph's efforts in the battle helped transform the attitude of Black workers toward unions and toward themselves as an identifiable group; eventually, Randolph helped to weaken organized labor's antagonism toward Black workers.
In the Pullman contest Randolph faced formidable obstacles. The first was Black workers' understandable skepticism toward unions, which had historically barred Black workers from membership. An additional obstacle was the union that Pullman itself had formed, which weakened support among Black workers for an independent entity.
The Brotherhood possessed a number of advantages, however, including Randolph's own tactical abilities. In1928 he took the bold step of threatening a strike against Pullman. Such a threat, on a national scale, under Black leadership, helped replace the stereotype of the Black worker as servant with the image of the Black worker as wage earner. In addition, the porters' very isolation aided the Brotherhood. Porters were scattered throughout the country, sleeping in dormitories in Black communities; their segregated life protected the union's internal communications from interception. That the porters were a homogeneous group working for a single employer with single labor policy, thus sharing the same grievances from city to city, also strengthened the Brotherhood and encouraged racial identity and solidarity as well. But it was only in the early 1930's that federal legislation prohibiting a company from maintaining its own unions with company money eventually allowed the Brotherhood to become recognized as the porters' representative.
Not content with this triumph, Randolph brought the Brotherhood into the American Federation of Labor, where it became the equal of the Federation's 105 other unions. He reasoned that as a member union, the Brotherhood would be in a better position to exert pressure on member unions that practiced race restrictions. Such restrictions were eventually found unconstitutional in 1944.