Benjamin F. Randolph was an educator and a minister. A graduate of Oberlin College, he volunteered during the Civil War and served as a chaplain. He was a newspaper editor, a politician, and a state senator. He was a delegate to the 1868 South Carolina Constitutional Convention, at which he wrote the article authorizing the first system of free public education in the state.
He was an elector for the United States Electoral College during the 1868 Republican National Convention for Ulysses S. Grant, and the chair of the state Republican Party Central Committee.
Traveling through the state of South Carolina on behalf of the Republican candidates for office, Randolph was gunned down in broad daylight on the platform of the train depot in Hodges, SC on October 16, 1868.
There were many witnesses. The three men who committed the murder didn’t bother to disguise themselves, they simply mounted their horses and rode away after the senator was killed. Names were named – D. Wyatt Aiken, Fletcher Hodges – but no one was charged. The only witness that spoke out was shot ‘escaping from the jail’ by the Constable. Benjamin Randolph was taken to Columbia to be buried – in a cemetery later named after him.
In the town of Hodges, SC, population 158, the Depot sits, lonely, but still standing strong. The train tracks are long gone, a track of gravel and grass where the steel and wood once lay.
There is no marker indicating what took place – a minister, an educator, a veteran of the Civil War, a state senator – assassinated.
In front of the depot, a painted over billboard marks John 3:16. The words New Hope can vaguely be seen underneath.
That’s the thing about this area – there are a lot of churches. There has always been a lot of churches, and scripture scattered along the roadside. The people that shot Benjamin Randolph were probably part of a church, they probably sat on Sunday next to the others in their community who were silent as they took an innocent man’s life because of political beliefs. The silence stretched up through the North as well, where outrage over this type of violence could have incited people to stop it.
The sign sits in front of a storefront church, and the pastor, driving an older model gold Cadillac or Buick, backs his car up as I’m taking pictures. He drives over to where I’ve parked, asking if I’m looking at buying the depot, which is reportedly for sale. I tell him I’m not, and ask if he’s heard of Benjamin Randolph, which he hasn’t.
Driving away I’m troubled that no one knows what happened here, that there’s no sign and that it is absent from history books and even Google searches. I feel like I’m the only one chasing these ghosts and I can’t figure out the reason why.
I go around the block and drive by the depot again, looking this time at the name of the church on the single storefront standing alone in front of the depot – Second Chances Restoration Outreach Ministries.
I needed this reminder – Second Chances Ministry – isn’t that what we have now, a second chance? If things would have been handled differently during Reconstruction we as a nation could’ve healed better; could’ve been stronger, safer, more prosperous. But we didn’t.
Yet, we can’t lose hope. The Bible says: His mercies are new every morning. I’m not sure how we’ll get there, but I feel like telling these stories may help.