The A. Philip Randolph Institute was founded by and named for labor leader Asa Philip Randolph, who was the longtime president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union. Randolph and his friend and fellow activist Bayard Rustin founded APRI in 1965 after their successful 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the passages of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The national headquarters is located in Washington, D. C.
Randolph believed that the black community shouldn’t solve its problems in isolation from the overall labor movement. APRI’s mission statement includes encouraging black involvement in unions and working with the labor movement on key sociopolitical issues such as employment, education, healthcare, and housing. Soon after its founding, and throughout the decades since, APRI showed solidarity for various unions by supporting demonstrations such as the Memphis, Tennessee, sanitation workers’ strike in 1968, the General Electric strikers in 1969, the Mississippi catfish workers in the 1980s, and the Institute allied with Greyhound and Eastern Airlines workers picketing in the 1990s.
APRI holds several annual events for local communities and for its members. Individual chapters organize annual banquets, which started in the 1970s for most cities. The banquets award members of the local church community, legislature, and labor unions for impactful work, and proceeds go to the APRI Education Committee’s Scholarship Fund. The National Education Conference for all APRI chapters began in 1969, gathering to discuss innovations and solutions for empowering black youth and to push for school funding locally and federally. The Institute’s Trade Unions Intern Program supports young people desiring to enter apprenticeships in various industries.
APRI chapters invest much of their energies in voter education and participation, through their Get Out the Vote program. Chapters set up voter registration events, distribute voter education literature, and, although a non-partisan organization, invite those running for office to forums where the community can ask the candidates about their platforms. At the 25th Annual National Conference, then-president of APRI Norman Hill stated that the founders “…recognized that the freedom struggle… would no longer be [just through] demonstrations…[but] to engage in political action to secure economic justice through a fundamental redistribution of wealth in America.”
APRI is a senior constituency group of the AFL-CIO. The current national president is Clayola Brown, who has been serving since 2004. She served from 1991 to 2001 as the vice president of the AFL-CIO. She is also a member on the United Nations Advisory Council, co-chair of the NAACP Labor Ad-Hoc Committee, and was appointed by Bill Clinton to the National Commission on Employment Policy.