The life of A. Philip Randolph, the late labor and civil rights leader, was celebrated by President Carter and other dignitaries in words and music yesterday in an old brick church in downtown Washington where Frederick Douglass used to pray.
"When I heard about this memorial, I did not hesitate," Carter said. "I told my staff to cancel my other engagements and I'd be here personally."
The gathering, which numbered about 3,000 applauded that, and the applause was characteristic of the service. For the people, who included Supreme Court Justice Thrugood Marshall and other officials of the past and present, had come to honor one of the great founders of the civil rights movement. They had come to say "well done" and "god bless" to a life well lived rather than to mourn its ending.
The music included solos by Leontyne Price and George Shirley of the Metropolitan Opera Company. When Miss Price hit a high note in "The Lord's Prayer," the congregation burst into shouts of "Bravo!"
There was more applause at the end and Carter kissed Price on the cheek. There also was applause for Shirley, who sang a spiritual whose refrain was, "And before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave."
In addition to the president, the speakers were Mayor Marion Barry, Lane Kirkland, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Bayard Rustin, an associate of Randolph's for more than 40 years and the president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Carter said Randolph was "a man of dignity, tenacity and eloquence, a man of gentleness and constant idealism.
He was able to combine idealism with hard work and sweat. He combined gentleness with a kind of brash courage in a time when that was not done."
The president recalled that Randolph was fond of Shakespeare and he summed up his life with a quotation from "king Henry VIII:" "Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine, the honour of greatness of his name shall be, and make new nations."
Randolph was born near Jacksonville, Fla. He died of heart ailments May 16 at his apartment in New York City at the age of 90.
He was the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first black union to be granted a charter by the old American Federation of Labor. He was the first black vice president of the AFL-CIO after the Congress of Industrial Organizations joined the AFL.
With the threat of a march on Washington, he persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to open the gates of Industry to black workers during World War II. He persuaded President Harry S Truman to desegregate the armed forces of the United States.
He was one of the organizers of the great 1963 march on Washington during which the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I have a dream" speech, and was a factor in the passage of the milestone Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Bayard Rustin said that so simply did Randolph live that when he died his possessions consisted of a broken television set and $500 in cash.
Rustin said the great lesson of Randolph's life was that "the struggle for any right is a struggle for all rights. His leadership flowed from his own tremendous humanity, it flowed from the depth of his understanding of what it means to be human."
When he sat down, Rustin wiped his eyes with a handkerchief.
Kirkland said the labor movement wished to claim Randolph as one of its own just as the civil rights movement did.
"Better, perhaps, than any other individual who ascended to a leadership time, a feat as rare as the Individual himself - Phil Randolph understood, in his own words, that 'social and political freedom cannot be sustained in the midst of economic insecurity and exploitation,'" Kirkland said.
Mayor Barry and the other speakers said that great as were Mr. Randolph's achievements, his work still is unfinished. He quoted a saying of Frederick Douglass, the black civil rights leader of the last century: "We may not get all we pay for, but we pay for all we get."
The service was held at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, at 1518 M Street NW. CAPTION: Picture, At memorial service for A. Philip Randolph, President Carter is flanked by Bishop Henry W. Murph, left, and the Rev. Dr. Robert L. Pruitt. By James M. Thresher - The Washington Post