They won’t comprehend it unless you put them into motion

A. Philip Randolph, September 1942

One of the basic principles of education is–you learn by doing. When you get the people in action in the interest of an objective that is fundamentally, and socially sound, those people learn to fight for some sound social, political and economic issues by virtue of that fact. They begin to study the nature of these issues, but until you get the people themselves to move by sending telegrams and writing letters and getting out on the streets and marching in the interests of certain problems, you will not be able actually to get them to think. They may read about a certain thing and they may talk about it, but they don’t really believe in it until they do something about it, and the best way to get people to do something about a basic social issue is to put them in motion. That is the reason the March-on-Washington movement believes in marching. We have never marched. We may march yet, however. (Applause)

You know that sometimes you walk down the street and you look at a person and yet you don’t see him. The reason you don’t see him is the mind has not comprehended the person. You have not associated that person with certain facts in your consciousness and hence you do not speak to him. The same thing is true with respect to building a social movement. The same thing is true with respect to fighting for a social issue. You have got to get people actually to feel the thing, to comprehend the thing, and they won’t comprehend it unless you put them into motion. That is the theory that we are going to act upon in the coming years in order to mobilize the Negro forces and other other forces back of the fight for F.E.P.C.

As I have said, you have played a tremendous part in this whole fight. I am proud of it. I am proud of the role that you played, but the fight is not over and you must continue to play this role. I know you will. You must also understand that the fight is going to be more difficult. It is going to be harder in the future because the forces of opposition are going to be greater and, therefore, we are going to be compelled to exert even more pressure than we did in the past in the interest of this law.

A. Philip Randolph, Address to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, September 18, 1946, Report of Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Convention and Twenty-First Anniversary Celebration of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, pp. 128-129 (Chicago, September 16-20, 1946). Hat tip to my former student Austin Mehrabian.

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