Black History 365, National Poetry Month edition: Dudley Randall

Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. In honor of National Poetry Month, I’ll be posting a new Black poet every day this month. Every Wednesday for the months after that I will post other Black history figures (I’ll go back to my “first Black” series). 

Today’s poet is Dudley Randall

Dudley Randall

Dudley Randall


From Famous Poets and Poems and Wikipedia:

Dudley Randall (January 14, 1914 – August 5, 2000) was an African-American poet and poetry publisher from Detroit, Michigan. He founded a pioneering publishing company called Broadside Press in 1965, which published many leading African-American writers, among them Melvin Tolson, Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, Etheridge Knight, Margaret Walker, and others. Randall’s most famous poem is “The Ballad of Birmingham”, written in response to the 1963 bombing of the Baptist church that Martin Luther King, Jr belonged to in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four girls were killed. Randall’s poetry is characterized by simplicity and realism. Other well-known poems of his include “A Poet is not a Jukebox”, “Booker T. and W.E.B.”, and “The Profile on the Pillow”.

Randall was born in Washington D.C., the son of Arthur George Clyde (a Congressional Minister) and Ada Viola (a teacher) Randall. His family moved to Detroit in 1920, and he married Ruby Hudson in 1935, however, this marriage dissolved. Randall married Mildred Pinckney in 1942, but this marriage did not last either. In 1957, he married Vivian Spencer.

Randall developed an interest in poetry during his school years. At the age of thirteen, his first published poem appeared in the Detroit Free Press. He worked in a foundry of the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, from 1932 to 1937. He also worked as a clerk at a post office in Detroit from 1938 to 1943 and served in the military during World War II. He was working at a post office while he was attending Wayne State University in Detroit, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1949. Randall then completed his Master’s degree in Library Science at the University of Michigan in 1951. He worked as a librarian at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, and later at Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1956, he returned to Detroit to work at the Wayne County Federated Library System as head of the reference-inter loan department. From 1969-1976 Mr. Randall was a reference librarian at the University of Detroit (now the University of Detroit Mercy), and served also as the University’s Poet-in-Residence. In his honor, the Dudley Randall Poet-in-Residence Award was established in 1971 and is still an annual event at the University as the Dudley Randall Poetry Contest.

Randall established the Broadside Press in 1965, when he printed his poem “Ballad of Birmingham” on a single sheet. In 1966 the press published Poem Counterpoem, authored by Randall with Margaret Danner, founder of Boone House, a black cultural center in Detroit where they both read their work. In the words of R. Baxter Miller, “Perhaps the first of its kind, the volume contains ten poems each by Danner and Randall. The poems are alternated to form a kind of double commentary on the subjects they address in common. Replete with allusions to social and intellectual history, the verses stress nurture and growth. In ‘The Ballad of Birmingham’ Randall establishes racial progress as a kind of blossoming, as he recounts the incident…. After folk singer Jerry Moore read the poem in a newspaper, he set it to music, and Randall granted him permission to publish the tune with the lyrics. Randall’s next publication was Cities Burning (1968), a group of thirteen poems, in response to a riot in Detroit. Another fourteen poems appeared in Love You in 1970, followed by More to Remember in 1971 and After the Killing in 1973. Naomi Long Madgett writes: “His interest in Russia, apparent in his translations of poems by Aleksander Pushkin (‘I Loved You Once,’ After the Killing) and Konstantin Simonov (‘My Native Land’ and ‘Wait for Me’ in A Litany of Friends), was heightened by a visit to the Soviet Union in 1966. His identification with Africa, enhanced by his association with poet Margaret Esse Danner from 1962 to 1964 and study in Ghana in 1970, is evident in such poems as ‘African Suite’ (After the Killing).” The composer Hans Werner Henze used the words of Randall’s poem “Roses and Revolutions” in his 1973 song cycle Voices. Randall was the publisher of Broadside Press from 1965 to 1977; he sold the press to the Alexander Crummell Memorial Center in 1977 but continued to serve as a consultant.

In 1981 Randall was named Poet Laureate of the City of Detroit by Mayor Coleman Young. Randall died on August 5, 2000, aged 86, in Southfield, Michigan. In May 2001 the University of Detroit Mercy’s McNichols Campus Library was designated a national Literary Landmark by the Friends of Libraries U.S.A. (now the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations) and UDM’s Dudley Randall Center for Print Culture was named in his honor. The Dudley Randall Poetry Prize is awarded to a University of Detroit Mercy student each year.

On January 12, 2014, the centennial of Dudley Randall’s birth was celebrated at the University of Detroit Mercy Library. Detroit Poet Laureate Naomi Long Madgett spoke about her friendship and collaborations with Randall. Poet and professor Dr. Gloria House read selections of Dudley Randall’s poetry. Poet Albert M. Ward and former Dudley Randall Poetry contest winners Deonte Osayande and Lori Allan read their work.




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