President Carter and other leaders yesterday praised A. Philip Randolph, the labor and civil rights leader who died in New York City Wednesday at the age of 90, as a major force for racial and economic justice in the United States.

In a statement issued by the White House, the president called Mr. Randolph "one of those gaints" who "helped transform the face of the American nation." He summarized Mr. Randolph's long career by saying he had "helped sweep away longstanding barriers of discrimination and segregation in industry and labor unions, in our schools and armed services, in politics and government."

"For each new generation of civil rights leaders, he was an inspiration and an example," the president said. "His dignity and integrity, his eloquence, his devotion to nonviolence, and his unshakeable commitment to justice for all helped shape the ideals and spirit of the civil rights movement. . . America will always be a more just, more humane, and more decent nation because A. Philip Randolph lived among us."

Mr. Randolph died at his apartment in New York on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic decision in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in the nation's public schools. The cause of death was not disclosed, but Mr. Randolph had heart ailments and high blood pressure.

Vice President Walter F. Mondale said it was "sadly ironic" that Mr. Randolph had died the day before widespread observances of the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.

"No American did more for the cause of social equality and economic justice," Mondale said.

Secretary of Labor F. Ray Marshall said Mr. Randolph "taught all of us that the true measure of a Democratic society is gauged by its ability to assure every citizen the right to reach his or her full potential. Because of the extraordinary contributions of this great leader, young blacks in Harlem, in Watts and in the Mississippi Delta stand a little taller than their parents could."

Vernon E. Jordan Jr., the director of the National Urban League, said "We've lost a great warrior. A. Philip Randolph is really symbolic of everything that the civil rights movement is about. He was a strong leader - strong in his convictions, unafraid."

Benjamin Hooks, the executive director of the NAACP, said, "It's so sad, because there are so many young people today for whom that name means very little. And yet, for more than 40 years, he was a tower and beacon of strength and hope for the entire black community."

Indeed, some of Mr. Randolph's achievements have been part of the fabric of American life for so long that many take them for granted. And there were militant civil rights leaders in the 1960s who chided Mr. Randolph for his patience and for his insistence on peaceful means to achieve his goals.

Yet he was the first black leader to apply economic power through the labor movement to improve the lot of blacks. He organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first major black union in the United Stated and the first to be granted an international charter by the American Federation of Labor. After the AFL and the Congress of Industrial Organizations merged in 1955, he persuaded the new AFL-CIO to oppose racial discrimination in unions. He was the first black vice president of the AFL-CIO, serving from 1957 until his retirement in 1968.

In 1941, Mr. Randolph used the threat of a massive march on Washington to force president Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order No. 8802. This opened the expanding economy of World War II to black workers and established a Fair Employment Practices Committee to enforce it.

In 1948, he persuaded a reluctant president Harry S. Truman to issue an executive order ending segregation in the military services. The first peacetime draft in the nation's history had been instituted in response to the Cold War. Mr. Randolph threatened to start a campaign of civil disobedience in which blacks would refuse to register for the draft unless segregation in the military was abolished.

Mr. Randolph and Bayard Rustin, a longtime colleague and now head of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an organization devoted to increasing economic opportunities for blacks and increasing voter registration among blacks, were among the organizers of the great 1963 march on Washington. The march was led by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who used the occasion to make his famous "I have a dream" speech.

The march was a factor in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, employment practices and in unions. It also granted the U.S. attorney general new powers to enforce the Supreme Court's school desegregation decree and to enforce voting rights for blacks.

Mr. Randolph led three other marches on Washington. In 1957 he led a Pilgrimage for Prayer and in 1958 and 1959 he organized Youth Marches for Integrated Schools.

Mr. Randolph was a follower of Eugene Debs and a socialist in his younger days. He was a pacifist who was arrested for refusing to register for the draft during World War I. He was outraged when he discovered that some Pullman porters had armed themselves in anticipation of a strike in the 1920s, and throughout his life he insisted on peaceful means to achieve his ends.

In an interview in 1973, Mr. Randolph said he had been attracted to the tactic of peaceful protest, developed by Mahatma Gandhi in his successful struggle for India's independence from Britain, during his early days with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

"I think that perhaps in my work I was distinguished more for my champioing of the philosophy and principles of Gandhiism than I was, at times, for trade unionism," he said.

Mr. Randolph said that the Christian principles of his father, a minister of the African Methodist-Episcopal Church in Florida on whom he depended for advice even as an adult, fitted the Gandhian mold.

"My father was happy about my nonviolence stand," he said. "He didn't want to feel that his own son was going around the country urging black people to rise up against white people and use physical force."

Asked in that interview to assess his achievement in racial equality, Mr. Randolph said, "I think that the white people in the South have changed. They can see that the Southern black people are definitely a part of the soul of the South as much as white people. That is something one oncecould only hope for."

Mr. Randolph was tall and courtly. He was a noted public speaker and his diction, learned from his father and from public speaking, was characterized by a broad "a".

President Roosevelt, who spoke with a broad "a" himself, once said to him, "Phil, when did you graduate from Harvard?"

"I never went to Harvard, Mr. President," Mr. Randolph answered.

Asa Philip Randolph was born in Crescent City, Fla., a small town in the swampy lake country southwest of St. Augustine, on April 15, 1889. His father was James William Randolph and his mother was Elizabeth Robinson Randolph.

When he was 2, the family moved to Jacksonville, where his father worked as a tailor during the week and preached on Sundays. A bookish man, the father insisted that Asa, as he was then known, and his brother James Jr., read, too. Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Darwin, John Calvin, and the church periodicals were the fare available to them.

Mr. Randolph attended Cookman Institute in Jacksonville (now Bethune-Cookman College) where he became interested in theatricals and played in amateur productions.

Discouraged by the limited jobs opened to a young black in Florida, Mr. Randolph and a friend went to New York in 1911.

Settling in Harlem, where he was to live until past his 80th birthday, he joined a Methodist Church drama club and took public speaking courses at the City College of New York.

He later turned to politics - radical politics - and - dropped his public speaking courses at CCNY for ones in philosophy, political science, economics, and history.

In 1914, Mr. Randolph met a Columbia University student named Chandler Owen, a black with much more formal education that he. Together, Mr. Randolph and Owen were to form a team that in the turbulent years just before and during U.S. involvement in World War I loudly proclaimed black rights in a socalist and humanistic context.

At first the Randolph-Owen declamations were made from soap boxes on Harlem street corners, but in January 1917 they found a formal outlet. They became editors of the Hotel Messenger, a magazine of the New York waiters' union. However, when they published a story about headwaiters selling uniforms to men who worked for them, Mr. Randolph and Owen lost their jobs.

Soon afterward, they set up their own publcation, the Messenger, that was to become what one writer called many years later "one of the most brilliantly edited magazines in the history of American Negro journalism." The Justice Department in 1919 called it "by long odds the most able and most dangerous of all the Negro publications."

The money for running the Messenger at the beginning came mostly from Mr. Randolph's wife, the former Lucille Green, a young widow he married in 1914, who owned a money-making beauty shop. Publication began in November 1917. The United States had been at war for seven months. Nonetheless, Mr. Randolph and Owen flatly opposed American participation on straight socialist ideological grounds.

Excepting among Harlem radicals, this position was not popular. Even Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, then the leading black intellectual, was calling on members of his race to back the war effort. But Mr. Randolph and Owen kept counselling blacks to oppose the war.

Both men were arrested for investigation of their draft status in Cleveland in August 1918. After their release, Owen was drafted and served six months in a southern training camp and Mr, Randolph was on notice to report for induction in November 1918, when the war ended.

The Messenger, whatever its literary reputation, never was successful, and as Lucille Randolph's beauty shop business waned (partly because her husband was a "radical"), the publication fell on sorry days. Owen left and went to Chicago to work.

In 1925, however, when Mr. Randolph was a 36-year-old near-failure as a socialist editor, he chanced upon what was to become his lifetime work. He was approached by Ashley L.Totten, a Pullman porter from the U.S. Virgin Islands, and asked to help organize a porters union.

Mr, Randoplh had dabbled in unionism - with elevator operators, motion picture projectionist, and waiters on the Fall River Line, for which he had worked briefly - but with notable lack of success. After some months, he took to the new task with enthusiasm for the porters were universally black and universally exploited.

The Pullman Company controlled virtually all the thousands of sleeping and chair cars on American railroads. The thousands of porters who manned them were paid $60 a month for a basic work period amounting to almost 400 hours or 11,000 miles of travel, and might work as long as a 24-hour day. Overtime came only after 400 hours, and then was only 25 cents an hour.

Pullman also had what amounted to a company union, run by company favourites who got preferred runs and special treatment. "Hat-in-hand Negroes," they were called by the Messenger.

Mr. Randolph inaugurated the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters on Aug. 25, 1925. Because he knew there were company spies at the inaugural session in Harlem's Imperial Lodge of Elks hall, he ran the whole show himself.

There followed 12 years of struggle. The Pullman Company fired workers who joined the new union. When the Railway Labor Act became law in 1926, giving railroad workers the right to organize, porters were excluded from its provisions.

It was not until after the law was amended in 1934 that Mr. Randolph was able to persuade the company even to consider recognizing the porters' union. There followed more years of delays, disputes with other unions, and court battles. In 1937, Mr. Randolph signed the first contract between the company and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Important as it was, that victory proved to be more the end of the beginning of discrimination against blacks in the labor movement than the beginning of the end. For the rest of his active life, Mr. Randolph fought for his equality in unionism. It is a battle that others continue today.

After Mr. Randolph had made a plea on this subject at the AFL-CIO convention in 1959, George Meany, AFL-CIO president, turned to him and said, "Who the hell appointed you as guardian of all the Negroes in America?"

Asked in the 1973 interview if he ever had become discouraged during the bleak years when he was trying to bring the Pullman Company to the bargaining table, Mr. Randolph avoided the word "discouraged".

"I don't ever remember a single day of hopelessness," he said. "I knew from the history of tha labor movement, and especially of the black people,that it was an undertaking of great trial . . . that, live or die, I had to stick with it and we had to win.

"We were able to build a union that had great spiritual qualities that the Pullman Company came to recognize. And the porters knew that we were building a union designed to build a better life for them. Consequently, they stuck with me - sink or swim."

And, he said, "The Pullman porters movement was quite an example in the life of Negroes of how you can move forward on the basis of education and belief in cooperation with common enemies. There is nothing but hopelessness unless agencies can give the black man the possibility of hopeful change."

Mr. Randolph's wife died in 1963. He left no immediate survivors. CAPTION: Picture 1, Mr. Randolph, center, and Whitney Young of National Urban League, meet with President Lyndon B. Johnson. AP; Picture 2, The 1963 civil rights march on Washington was the occassion for this meeting: From left, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Joachim Prinz of American Jewish Congress, Mr. Randolph, President Kennedy, and Walter Reuther. UPI; Picture 3, A. PHILIP RANDOLPH, AP