Legislator, clergyman. Randolph was born free in Kentucky to parents who may have been of mixed race. He grew up in Morrow County, Ohio, where he received a primary education. He attended preparatory school at Oberlin College and graduated from its collegiate program in 1862. Shortly thereafter he was ordained as a Methodist Episcopal minister, but he served as a Presbyterian chaplain with the Twenty-sixth U.S. Colored Troops at Hilton Head. After the war he returned to the Methodist fold.
Randolph settled in Charleston in 1865 and worked for the American Missionary Association and then the Freedmen’s Bureau as assistant superintendent of schools. He participated in the Colored People’s Convention at Charleston’s Zion Presbyterian Church. In 1866 he coedited, with the Rev. E. J. Adams, the Charleston Journal. By 1867 he was the associate editor of the Charleston Advo- cate, a Methodist publication.
With the introduction of universal manhood suffrage in 1867, Randolph joined in Reconstruction politics as an active Republican. He rose rapidly through the leadership ranks. He represented Orangeburg County in the 1868 constitutional convention. He dismayed many black and white Republicans when he strongly supported measures disfranchising illiterate voters and those who failed to pay poll taxes. He also endorsed a constitutional ban on racial discrimination. He spoke in favor of the integration of public schools: “The time has come when we shall have to meet things squarely, and we must meet them now or never. The day is coming when we must decide whether the two races shall live together or not.” However, none of the constitutional proposals that Randolph endorsed passed.
In 1868 Randolph was elected to represent Orangeburg County in the state Senate. He also served as a county school commissioner. The state Republican convention elected him chair of the state central committee. One white Republican leader, John Morris, declared that Randolph was “quite a speaker and a good man” but was “totally unfit for that position.” On October 16, 1868, while campaigning on behalf of the Republican Party, Randolph was assassinated after he stepped off a train at Hodges station in Abbeville County. There were allegations that the Ku Klux Klan was responsible for his murder, but no one was convicted of the crime. Randolph was one of four Republican leaders—Solomon G. W. Dill, James Martin, and Lee Nance were the others—slain during 1868. He was buried in Columbia in the cemetery that now bears his name.
Holt, Thomas. Black over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.
Powers, Bernard E. Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822–1885. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.
Williamson, Joel. After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina during Reconstruction, 1861–1877. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965.