The Victorian rowhouse at 817 Q Street NW was, for more than three decades between 1943 and 1978, the local chapter office of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). Socialist labor rights advocate A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979) founded the union in 1925 to represent the porters, attendants, and maids working for the Pullman Company of Chicago. Randolph led the union from his home in New York from 1925 until 1968. The opening of the local Washington, DC chapter in 1943 coincided with a lengthy federal investigation of discrimination in the railroad industry.
In January 1941, Randolph launched the March on Washington Movement which rapidly expanded to encompass 36 chapters charged with recruiting for a mass demonstration that summer. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Randolph and other leaders shortly before the planned march, and in an effort to avert the protest, he signed Executive Order 8802 on June 25, barring discrimination in the defense industries and establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee to ensure enforcement. Economist Robert Clifton Weaver worked closely with the FEPC to address discrimination complaints and to highlight companies that had hired black workers.
In response to the 1947 passage of the Selective Service Act requiring men to register for the draft, Randolph founded the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation, which successfully pressured President Harry Truman to abolish segregation in the armed forces. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 in July 1948. In 1963, Randolph, along with Bayard Rustin, was a central figure in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and used the Q Street BSCP office to plan the event.