JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For many in Jacksonville, it’s just another road. A. Philip Randolph Boulevard runs between the baseball grounds and the arena downtown.
But the street is named after an icon and one of the most influential men in the American civil rights movement.
“We are not a mob. We are the advanced guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom,” Randolph said in 1963.
That year, he led the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when an estimated 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
He fought for labor rights and negotiated with presidents like John F. Kennedy.
“A. Philip Randolph, this prince of a man, the dean of Black leadership, spoke up and he said in his baritone voice ‘Mr. President, the Black masses are restless and we are going to march on Washington,” John Lewis said recounting the story in 2016.
Randolph grew up on Jacksonville’s eastside. He was born in Putnam County in 1889 and moved to Duval County at 2. He saw his father, a pastor, fight unequal rights.
Urban planner and historian Ennis Davis studied Randolph’s upbringing which started with fighting racism in Duval County.
“A young man in town was in danger of being lynched downtown at the courthouse and was put in the jail. And A. Philip Randolph’s father and other men within the community took guns down downtown and basically surrounded the jail, even climbed up on top of buildings, pointed guns at the lynch mob that came into town and for all intents and purposes basically said nobody’s being lynched today and if you’re going to try to get this guy out of the jail before he has his chance to have his day in court, we can have a shoot out today. We all can go down,” Davis said.
Randolph eventually moved to New York to become a labor union boss and push to end segregation. He’d later earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“[He was] probably one of the most influential people to ever come out of Jacksonville in terms of American history and race relations,” Davis said.
Today, his legacy lives on not just at the school named after him, or the park, or the street, it continues in people like Davis.
“I’m a product of that. If we don’t have a Civil Rights Act of 1964, if nobody stands up to the discrimination that was taking place at that point, I’m not an urban planner today,” Davis said. “You could largely say there is no march on Washington in 1963 if you don’t have APR and the things he did to pave the way for that 1950s, 1960s civil rights movement.”