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Portrait of a Founding Father.

Dudley Randall, poet, librarian, teacher and publisher was an influential anchor of the flourishing Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and '70s. His death fast summer prompted reflections on his legacy by one of his many prominent literary heirs.

My words, this long endured memory, will be personal like most of writing and all of life: In my youth, I found black music and literature because I was a lonely, inquisitive and materially impoverished child, raised among pimps and whores slamming Cadillac doors on the east side of Detroit and the west side of Chicago. The Detroit and Chicago public libraries were my secret refuge where I could, without the racist instruction of insensitive teachers, look for a way out of a life that was going nowhere, fast. My early reading of Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Sterling Brown, Carter G. Woodson, Alain Locke, Roi Ottley and Nick Aaron Ford prepared me to receive the poetry and cultural contributions of Dudley Randall, one of the 20th century's most important poets and cultural workers, who recently made his ancestral transition at age 86.

Randall--poet, librarian and publisher--helped to shape and expose an entire generation of poets in the '60s and '70s. I was personally introduced to Mr. Randall by Margaret Goss Burroughs, artist extraordinaire and founder of Chicago's DuSable Museum of African American History. As a young would-be poet serving time in the U.S. Army, I volunteered on evenings and weekends at the DuSable Museum. At that time, it was located in the home of Charles and Margaret Burroughs. The Burroughs had one of the best personal libraries that I had ever encountered and they allowed and encouraged me to visit it without restrictions. I actually met Dudley Randall in 1967 while he and Margaret Burroughs edited the anthology For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and Death of Malcolm X, the first hardback book to be published by Randall's Broadside Press in 1969. For Malcolm was also the first serious anthology published that documented the impact of Malcolm X on the world.

Randall himself was born January 14, 1914, in Washington, D.C., to Reverend Arthur George Clyde Randall and Ada Bradley Randall. He was reared in a home with three brothers and a sister, surrounded by nurturing parents who loved black culture. Randall started writing early, after being influenced by James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen and Jean Toomer. After spending time in the U.S. Army, Randall earned a B.A. in English at Wayne State University and an M.A. in Library Science at the University of Michigan. He worked as a librarian at Lincoln University (1951-1954), Morgan State College (1954-1956), the Wayne County Fellowship Library System (1956-1969) and at the University of Detroit, where he was also poet-in-residence until his retirement in 1976. In 1957, he married Vivian Barnett Spencer, who survives him, and saw that the celebration of his life held on August 5, 2000, in Detroit, Michigan, was a dignified and spirited, poetic and memorable occasion that exemplified this giant of a man.

Randall founded Broadside Press in 1965, primarily to publish broadsides (i.e, single sheets) of black poets' writing suitable for framing. His first publication was his own "The Ballad of Birmingham" a vivid and telling response to the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls. Randall printed his ballad in 1965 on a single sheet to protect his rights, and this was the birth of Broadside Press, the most significant publisher of black poets and one of the major publishing houses of the '60s and '70s. Under his editorial leadership, Broadside Press published poets who helped to change the black literary landscape in America--a list including Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Naomi Long Madgett, Robert Hayden, Etheridge Knight, Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Melba Joyce Boyd, Alice Walker, Aneb Kogsitsite, Sterling Plumpp, Margaret Danner, Ted Joans, Conrad Kent Rivers, Julia Fields, Raymond Patterson, James A. Emanuel, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Haki R. Madhubuti and many others.

Broadside Press was a remarkable achievement, established during a time when most, if not all, black businesses had to be financed, worked and kept alive by the sheer force of their founders. Randall was 51 when he founded Broadside, and he literally devoted much of his savings and all he earned to keep it going. First located in Randall's home, the press soon moved to a small building next door. I would often walk in and see him doing everything from writing invoices and packing boxes to sweeping the floor. Soft spoken, conservative in manner, dress and taste, Randall was one of the first true revolutionaries I met. He was a man of uncommon integrity embodied with a sharing and unselfish personality that allowed him to reach out to help me and others without our asking. He understood that having any kind of institution in the black community required a single-minded dedication and a commitment that most of us are unprepared for, especially an institution based upon the creative ideas of poets! He was my role model, publisher, friend, teacher and often surrogate father.

Few writers could match the quality, passion and technical skill of Dudley Randall's own poetry. Randall's award-winning works include the collections Poem Counterpoem (with Margaret Danner, 1966), Cities Burning (1968), Love You (1970), More To Remember (1971), After the Killing (1973) and A Litany of Friends (1981). His edited anthologies are For Malcolm (with Margaret Burroughs, 1969) and The Black Poets (1971). Randall was named poet laureate of Detroit in 1981 by Mayor Coleman A. Young. The documentary film, To Black Unicorn: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press, premiered at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1996. He was inducted into the National Hall of Fame for Writers of African Decent in 1998 in Chicago, along with the late poet Margaret Walker.

As poets and writers we exist because others existed before us, and we have been influenced, nurtured, mentored, touched and pulled into this very precarious and difficult art by them. I am the man I am today, in part, because of Dudley Randall. He was the first working poet other than Gwendolyn Brooks to take my work seriously. Broadside Press published eight of my books as well as two broadsides. If it were not for black literature, Malcolm X, Margaret and Charles Burroughs, Hoyt W. Fuller (the late editor of culture magazine Black World, formerly Negro Digest), Gwendolyn Brooks and Dudley Randall, I would not be writing these words. With Randall's encouragement, I patterned Third World Press after Broadside Press.

My debt to him is incalculable. He was a black intellectual at a time of great danger and serious racial and political upheaval in America and exhibited personal courage and commitment that we all can learn from. With the late poet Margaret Walker (see "Tribute," in the premiere issue of BIBR, January/February 1999), he represents part of that deep anchor that was the foundation of the Black Literary Renaissance of the '60s and '70s. The cultural content of their work and the spirited fearlessness and boldness of their actions helped to create a world where Alice Walker, June Jordan, Toni Cade Bambari, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, Kalamu ya Salaam, John Edgar Wideman, Walter Mosley, and others could take the lead in the '80s and '90s.

The time is here, when bravery is not he or she who is abundant with heroic deeds for the state. Bravery is that sister and brother over there, surrounded by people. They are talking; bravery lives in their words. They are telling the truths; they say they are poets. When the history of 20th-century literature is written, it will not be complete without the bountiful works of Dudley Randall, who lived a brave life, and did us proud.

Still in Print: Selected Works by Dudley Randall

Many of Dudley Randall's volumes of original poetry, along with the anthologies he edited, are currently out-of-print, available only through libraries, personal collections and used/online book dealers. Here are a list of those few that are still available through bookstore and online retailers. They may also soon become collector's items.
After the Killing
Third World Press, 1973
$4.85, ISBN 0-883-78044-5

A Litany of Friends
Lotus Press, 1981
$7.85, ISBN 0-916-41850-2

Broadside Memories:
Poets I Have Known
Broadside Press, 1975
$7.35, ISBN 0-910-29641-3

Love You
Broadside Press, 1970
$6.35, ISBN 0-910-29664-2

Homage to Hoyt Fuller
edited by Dudley Randall
Broadside Press, 1984
$20.00, ISBN 0-910-29622-7

The Black Poets: A New Anthology
edited by Dudley Randall
Bantam Books, reissue edition, 1985
$7.50, ISBN 0-554-37563-1

See also: Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995 by Julius E. Thompson (McFarland & Co., 1999, ISBN 0-7864-0360-8). This monograph by the director of the Black Studies Program at the University of Missouri, Columbia, is the only book-length evaluation of Dudley Randall's life and impacts on our intellectual, literary and social history. It includes photographs, illustrations, valuable detailed notes, an appendix and bibliography.
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Article Details
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Author:Madhubuti, Haki R.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Biography
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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