October 16, 1868 – Benjamin Randolph Assassinated in South Carolina

On this day in history, the Reverend Benjamin F. Randolph was gunned down on the train station platform by three white men in broad daylight as he changed trains in Hodges, South Carolina. Randolph was traveling through the state on behalf of Republican state and national candidates for office.

Randolph was born in Kentucky in 1820 to free African Americans parents. He moved with his family to Ohio as a child, where he attended school and eventually studied at Oberlin College. In 1858, he moved to Buffalo, N.Y., where he served as the principal of a public school for black students.

In December, 1863, Randolph joined the 26th Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored Troops at Rikers Island, New York as its chaplain. His regiment was discharged in South Carolina in August, 1865, and Randolph decided to stay in the state and help newly freed blacks obtain education. To that end, he was also active politically, becoming both a state senator and Republican committee officer.

After he was shot, the assailants rode away on horses without pursuit, and no one would identify them.

Benjamin F. Randolph, Harper's Weekly, October 25, 1868

Benjamin F. Randolph, Harper’s Weekly, October 25, 1868

As Douglas R. Egerton points out in his book The Wars of Reconstruction (Bloomsbury Press, 2014):

By [1866] Confederate veterans grasped that the White House ([under President Andrew Johnson] would not crack down on their retribution. … dogmatic southerners quietly but methodically attacked the rising generation of Republican Party functionaries.

As black activists paid for their convictions with their lives, terrified carpetbaggers – northern politicians, missionaries, and teachers – fled the South. . . . As these men and women well knew, Reconstruction did not fail; in regions where it collapsed it was violently overthrown by men who had fought for slavery during the Civil War and continued that battle as guerrilla partisans over the next decade. Democratic movements can be halted though violence.”

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