Directed by Robert Townsend, Written by Cyrus Nowrasteh
(2002, 90 minutes) Discussion facilitated by Mark Mohammed
Andre Braugher stars as legendary African-American labor organizer Asa Philip Randolph. The story begins in the 1920s, a time when being a railway Pullman-car porter was one of the few jobs open to black men. It was bad enough that the job paid starvation wages for impossibly long hours; even worse was the fact that white train passengers were encouraged to patronizingly refer to each and every black porter as “George,” in honor of sleeping-berth maven George Pullman.
After the death of a young porter who’d saved the life of a white passenger, coupled with his own humiliating experiences in a porter’s uniform, Asa Philip Randolph agrees to help organize the porters into a union — a task at which he has already failed in six previous instances with six different occupations. Although Randolph has strong support from friends, family, and a handful of white political activists, his mission may well be doomed from the start, thanks to the brutal strikebreaking tactics of Pullman Company head Barton Davis (Kenneth McGregor) and Davis’ legions of paid hooligans and bought-off politicians. In fact, it would be 12 years before Randolph’s union would finally see the light at the end of the tunnel — and even then there would be rough roads ahead.