The Eugene V. Debs Foundation each year honors a person or organization that demonstrates a long experience in the fields of labor, education, or public service. This year’s Eugene V. Debs Award will be presented to the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Founded in 1965 by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the AFL-CIO’s first constituent organization continues the important work in trade unionism and social justice begun by those two legends. Randolph and Rustin forged an alliance between the civil rights and labor movements, recognizing that working people of all races and creeds share the same goals: political and social freedom, and economic justice.
In 1967, A. Philip Randolph was the third recipient of the Debs award. He was nominated by Norman Thomas (winner of the second award) who wrote to the Debs Foundation, “we would honor ourselves” by honoring Randolph. According to Thomas, “He has rendered a very great service to labor, a service transcending the boundaries of the Sleeping Car Porters,” and has become “a genuine elder statesman in the struggle for civil rights.” The institute bearing his name continues this great work.
The 1967 award was presented on September 23, with Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall addressing the banquet in honor of Randolph. In his speech, Udall called A. Philip Randolph “the unofficial conscience of the labor movement,” and compared Randolph and Debs pointing out many similarities. Udall noted both men were “self-educated” and “dedicated and skillful labor organizers,” who “abhorred violence” and “sought to educate their fellow workers.” Importantly, “both men extended their vision beyond the narrow confines of trade unionism to work for the broad social goals that would create a better America” and “both men believed in achieving these goals through the democratic process.”
The banquet to honor Randolph was attended by many prominent politicians, including Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and Congressman John T. Myers. All international union presidents were invited and more than five attended, with many others sending representatives. In presenting the award on behalf of the Foundation, Patrick Gorman, President of the Debs Foundation and Secretary/Treasurer of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America spoke for the Foundation saying “Agitator of the highest order, man or courage and conviction and unswerving devotion to the cause of peace and human brotherhood, and for decades, unofficial conscience of American labor, we proudly present to you, as a worthy disciple of him whose memory we revere and whose honor we perpetuate, this 1967 Eugene V. Debs award in the field of labor and public service.”
As the trade union movement has seen tremendous growth and enthusiasm recently, it is vital that we continue to connect with the past. We must remember those who forged the path that brought us to this moment. Both the Debs Foundation and the A. Philip Randolph Institute are dedicated to preserving this important legacy. The Debs Foundation is honored once again, to honor the legacy of A. Philip Randolph and salute those who keep his flame alive.