Biography of Dudley Randall
an African American poet and poetry publisher from Detroit, Michigan. He founded a publishing company called Broadside Press in 1965, 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 the church Martin Luther King, Jr. belonged to in Birmingham, Alabama. Randall's poetry is characterized by simplicity and realism.
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, 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 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. Finally, in 1956, he returned to Detroit to work at the Wayne County Federated Library System as head of the reference-inter loan department.
Randall wrote one of his more popular poems, Ballad of Birmingham, in response to the 1963 bombing of a Baptist church in which four girls were killed. He also established the Broadside Press in 1965. The first collection by the press was Poem Counterpoem (1966). He then published 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. 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.
The composer Hans Werner Henze used the words of Randall's poem Roses and Revolutions in his 1973 song cycle Voices.
He received a Poet Laureate of the City of Detroit in 1981 by Mayor Coleman Young. Randall died on August 5, 2000 in Southfield, Michigan.
A Poet Is Not a Jukebox
A poet is not a jukebox, so don’t tell me what to write.
I read a dear friend a poem about love, and she said,
“You’re in to that bag now, for whatever it’s worth,
But why don’t you write about the riot in Miami?”
I didn’t write about Miami because I didn’t know about Miami.
I’ve been so busy working for the Census, and listening to music all night,
and making new poems
That I’ve broken my habit of watching TV and reading newspapers.