Benjamin Randolph (1820—October 16, 1868) was born free in Kentucky to mixed race parents, he grew up in Morrow County, Ohio, where he received a basic education. He attended preparatory school at Oberlin College and graduated from their collegiate program in 1862.
Soon afterwards he was ordained as a Methodist Episcopal minister, but he served as a Presbyterian chaplain with the Twenty-sixth U.S. Colored Troops located in Hilton Head, South Carolina. After the war Randolph returned to the Methodist faith while he settled in Charleston in 1865 and worked for the American Missionary Association and then the Freedmen’s Bureau as the assistant superintendent of schools. He played a part in the Colored People’s Convention at Charleston’s Zion Presbyterian Church and in 1866 he coedited, with the Rev. E. J. Adams, the Charleston Journal.
With the introduction of “Manhood Suffrage” in 1867 which was a form of voting rights, this allowed all adult males within a political system to vote, regardless of income, property, religion, or race. With this movement Randolph joined in the reconstruction era as a politician as he was a committed Republican.
He emerged quickly becoming very popular, as he represented Orangeburg County in the 1868 constitutional convention. He disappointed many black and white Republicans when he firmly supported disfranchising illiterate voters and those who failed to pay poll taxes. He also supported a constitutional ban on racial discrimination and he was also 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.” But, not any of the constitutional proposals Randolph endorsed were passed.
In 1868 Randolph was elected to represent Orangeburg County in the state Senate and he also served as a county school commissioner. The state Republican convention elected him chair of the state central committee, but there were still many who did not care for Randolph. 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 accusations 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.
Randolph Cemetery is located in the downtown area of Columbia, South Carolina and was the first cemetery officially established for the city’s African-American community. In 1871, nineteen local black legislators and businessmen came together to form an association to establish an adequate place for burial for blacks in Columbia. Prior to this period African-Americans were buried near the river in the local Potter’s Field along with poor whites.