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G u m b a l l   P r o j e c t   -   C a m a r a d e r i e

Camaraderie, 2024

JB Daniel

While “divide and conquer” was (and is) an effective tool used in the exploitation of the working class, these two men (Eugene V. Debs and A. Philip Randolph) knew the power of solidarity.

At the time of the Pullman Strike, A. Philip Randolph was only 5 years old and Eugene V. Debs was not yet a socialist… but the stage was being set for these two to become future comrades in a shared vision of a just and equal world.

Two "life-sized" gumball machines are reimagined as both Debs and Randolph with the use of references from historical artifacts that explore the connection between the two in the common cause.

Debs fought hard to include black workers in the American Railway Union (ARU), not an easy road in an 1893 racially divided America. He came remarkably close to achieving that goal but in the end the white workers excluded Black membership (by 2 votes). Debs later said:

“When we were organizing the American Railway Union in 1893, I stood on the floor of that convention all through its deliberations appealing to the delegates to open the door to admit the colored as well as the white man upon equal terms. They refused, and then came a strike and they expected the colored porters and waiters to stand by them. If they had only admitted these porters and waiters to membership in the American Railway Union there would have been a different story of that strike, for it would certainly have had a different result.” 1

Another panel touts the words of Randolph from “The Messenger”…

“First, as workers, black and white, we all have one common interest, viz., the getting of more wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions. Black and white workers should combine for no other reason than that for which individual workers should combine, viz., to increase their bargaining power, which will enable them to get their demands.

Second, the history of the labor movement in America proves that the employing class recognize no race lines. They will exploit a white man as readily as a black man. They will exploit women as readily as men. They will even go to the extent of coining the labor, blood and suffering of children into dollars. The introduction of women and children into the factories proves that capitalists are only concerned with profits and that they will exploit any race or class in order to make profits, whether they be black or white men, black or white women or black or white children…”

A third panel, taken from a letter to Randolph from Debs…

“…I aspire to no higher honor than to stand side by side with you in the daily struggle, fighting the battles of the workers, black and white and all other colors, for industrial freedom and a better day for all humanity.

Your loving comrade, Eugene V. Debs”

When Randolph was forming the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in New York, a letter was sent to Debs asking him to be the keynote speaker at the inaugural meeting (then still in secrecy):

“July 16, 1926

Mr. Eugene V. Debs, Terre Haute, Ind.

My dear Comrade Debs:

For the longest time I have been trying to find a spare moment in which to sit down and drop you a few comradely lines, and acquaint you with the fact that we are organizing the Pullman Porters. In fact, we have been at it since the 25th of Aug: last and are making rapid strides. As you know the workers are all Negroes, who for nearly 59 years have been most brutally exploited by the Pullman Company. I recall too, that it was this company which was responsible for your going to prison way back in 98. That they have been rather rigidly opposing us goes without my saying so; however, in spite of their frantic efforts we have succeeded, in less than a year, in bringing together more than 65% of the 12,000 Porters, and we are still going strong.

Our movement has stirred the country like few efforts of workers ever did before. It is recognized everywhere as the most significant movement on the industrial horizon of the United States. Thinkers and labor historians realize that our success will revolutionize the relations between white and black workingmen, aside from opening the eyes of Negro workers generally to the great need of economic organization. We know how wide spread is prejudice in the ranks of organized labor in the U.S. we know that there is no democracy in the labor movement in so far as the Negro is concerned and we know that there is no class solidarity among the workers of America. With our organization, 12,000 strong and intelligently led, and scattered all over the country as they are, as well as coming in contact with every body in every walk of life, you can readily see the decided change which this fact will bring about.

Besides, the employing interest in this country will soon find out that they can no longer freely draw upon the Negro race for recruits to beat down the standard of living as set by the organized workers. As you will note from our letter-head, Comrade Randolph is our Gen’l. organizer. The Company had, for a long time chloroformed the Porters with a "Company Union” which, as usual, was a rather useful instrument in keeping the men smothered beneath an avalanche of long hours, low wages and subdued manhood. However, we are now coming out and everything points to our complete victory. At present we are organizing in secret for obvious reasons. Soon we will come out in the open at our first national Convention when I hope your health will permit you to be present and make the key note speech. You will receive ample notice in advance.”

Forty some years later, A. Philip Randolph himself would be the “keynote speaker” at the Debs Foundation’s yearly award dinner as the recipient of the 1967 Eugene V. Debs Award. His speech ended with these words about Debs:

“May his memory ever live in the book and memory of numberless oppressed toilers of this earth and inspire us to march forward to a world of social and racial justice, freedom and equality, peace and plenty, a warless world without racism, black or white, brown or yellow, in which all men are recognized as members of one common human family, with respect for the dignity and worth of their personality. Such was the dream of Eugene V. Debs.” 5

These two leaders intertwined over the decades, with mutual admiration and camaraderie, often speaking at the same events in a shared vision of a just and equal world. The Logo used in the work was associated with both Randolph and Debs.


“Eugene Debs Believed in Socialism Because He Believed in Democracy” by Shawn Gude - https://jacobin.com/2020/09/eugene-debs-democracy-antiwar-canton

“You Should Know More About A. Philip Randolph, One of America’s Greatest Socialists” by Paul Prescod - https://jacobin.com/2020/05/a-philip-randolph-socialist-civil-rights-march-bscp

The Messenger - archive - https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/messenger/index.htm

Appeal to Reason - archive - https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/appeal-to-reason/

National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum - https://aprpullmanportermuseum.org/

The Eugene V. Debs Foundation and House Museum - https://debsfoundation.org/

(1)Debs Address https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=inu.32000007367214&seq=5 (published by Randolph)
(2) A. Philip Randolph “Our Reason for Being,” (Messenger, August 1919, 11–12.)
(3)Excerpt from a letter to A. Philip Randolph by Eugene V. Debs dated April 9, 1923 Published in The Messenger Vol. 5 No 5. May, 1923
(4) Letter to Debs from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (Indiana University)
(5) A. Philip Randolph’s award speech https://shawngude.substack.com/p/a-philip-randolph-at-the-1967-debs

This work is part of a larger series that includes: "The Gumball Project - The Pullman Strike”

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