When you think of King, you think of nonviolent civil disobedience. But that was not King's contribution to the civil rights movement (King philosophized and intellectualized it)—that was A. Philip Randolph's. Long before there was a King, Randolph was dubbed the "American Gandhi." Mahatma Gandhi's success in India inspired Randolph's belief in the power of peaceful direct action, and it became the foundation of his activism. Bayard Rustin, before he met Randolph, was a pacifist but not yet devoted to Gandhian principles. He was a Communist, who abandoned the party after Hitler violated the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and the party changed from an anti-war platform to a pro-war one. With his new found distrust for Communism, he became a socialist and joined Randolph's campaign. It would be Randolph that would have a primary influence on Rustin, and not the other way around.
Rustin is often given undue credit for the 1941 planned March. The idea came from Randolph. After announcing the idea on January 15, 1941, Randolph enlisted the support of Walter White of the NAACP, and Lester Granger of the National Urban League. Next, Randolph formed a March of Washington Committee with himself as the director. He also created a Sponsoring Committee that consisted of Walter White; Lester Granger; the Reverend William Lloyd Imes of Harlem's St James Presbyterian Church; Frank Crosswaith of the Negro Labor Committee; Richard Parish as Youth Division organizer; Dr Rayford Logan of Howard University; J. Finley Wilson, Grand Master of the Order of the Elks; the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr., pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church; E.E Williams of the Blasters and Drillers Union, Noah A. Walters of the Laundry Workers Joint Board and Layle Lane, a vice President of the American Federation of Teachers. Rustin after leaving the Young Communist League (YCL) joined Parish in the Youth Division. Though not new to radical activism, Rustin actually made his mark, when he denounced Randolph for calling off the March. (Randolph admired his spunk and this was the beginning of their life-long collaboration.) Rustin and Parish felt betrayed because Roosevelt's order applied only to banning discrimination within war industries and not the armed forces. Randolph released a public statement explaining why the march was call off, stating that their specific demands were met.
The threat of 100,000 Afrikan Americans descending on the nation's capital during World War II had forced the President to caved in to Randolph. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 or the Fair Employment Act, which banned discrimination in the defense industries. Randolph had also insisted that the order have some "teeth," and he got that too—the President established the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to provide oversight to the executive order. Executive Order 8802 was a significant victory for Afrikan American—it was the first major act by the federal government to remedy distinct abuses suffered by Afrikan Americans. And mass action or at least the threat of it was responsible for this achievement. This tactics would be refined and would continue to be part of the arsenal in the Afrikan American freedom quest.
After the success of the threatened March, Randolph continued the movement to make sure that the government kept its end of the bargain. In 1942, an estimated 18,000 blacks gathered at Madison Square Garden to hear Randolph kick off a campaign against discrimination in the military, in war industries, in government agencies, and in labor unions. During the Philadelphia Transit Strike of 1944, the government backed African-American workers' striking to gain positions formerly limited to white employees. This was all part of the March on Washington Movement (MOWM), which would lasted until 1946.
Nonviolent civil disobedience would successfully be use in the MOWM campaigns. Moreover, the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960’s used these and other tactics pioneered by Randolph, such as encouraging Afrikan Americans to vote as a bloc, mass voter registration, and training activists for non-violent, direct action.