Dudley Randall

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Dudley Randall (1914 - 2000) was an African American poet and poetry publisher from Detroit, Michigan. He operated a publishing company called Broadside Press from 1965 to 1977, which published many leading African American writers. Randall's most famous poem is "The Ballad of Birmingham," written during the 1960s, about the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Randall's poetry is characterized by simplicity and realism.

Dudley Felker Randall was born on January 14, 1914 in Washington D.C. He was the son of Arthur George Clyde (a Congressional Minister) and Ada Viola (a teacher) Randall. His family moved to Detroit from Washington D.C. in 1920. He married Ruby Hudson in 1935. Then later he married to Mildred Pinckney in 1942, but this marriage dissolved too. In 1957, he married Vivian Spencer.

He developed an interest in poetry during his school years. At the age of thirteen, his very first published poem appeared in the Detroit Free Press. He worked in a foundry of the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, MI from 1932 to 1937. He then worked as a clerk at a Post Office in Detroit from 1938 to 1943. He also served in military during World War II. He was working at a post office while he was attending Wayne State University in Detroit. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1949 from there. He 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, then at Morgan State College in Baltimore, MD. Finally in 1956, he returned to Detroit worked at the Wayne County Federated Library System as head of the reference-inter loan department.

He wrote one of his famous poems, “Ballad of Birmingham” in response to the 1963 bombing of a Baptist church in which four girls were killed. Randall established the Broadside Press in 1965. The first collection by the press was Poem Counterpoem (1966). He then published Cities Burning (1968) in response to a riot in Detroit. It was a group of thirteen poems. Another fourteen poems appeared in Love You in 1970, followed by More to Remember in 1971 and After the Killing in 1973. Some of his well-known works are: Ballad of Birmingham, A poet is not a Jukebox, Booker T. and W.E.B., and The Profile on the Pillow.

He received a Poet Laureate of the City of Detroit in 1981 by Mayor Coleman Young. He died on August 5, 2000 in Southfield, MI.


If ever mercy move you murder me,

I pray you, kindly killers, let me live.

Never conspire with death to set me free,

but let me know such life as pain can give..

Even though I be a clot, an aching clench,

a stub, a stump, a butt, a scab, a knob,

a screaming pain, a putrefying stench,

still let me live, so long as life shall throb.

Even though I turn such traitor to myself

as beg to die, do not accomplice me.

Even though I seem no human, mute shelf

of glucose, bottled blood, machinery

to swell the lung and pump the heart--even so,

do not put out my life. Let me still glow.

                                     Dudley Randall (b. 1914)





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