Randolph Cemetery

In 1871 nineteen black businessmen in Columbia met to create a suitable burial ground for the African-American community. They formed the Randolph Cemetery Association, named after Benjamin Randolph, a state senator who was assassinated in 1868. They purchased a few acres adjacent to Elmwood Cemetery, a cemetery established for white citizens in 1854. Randolph Cemetery was established in  1872 in Columbia, SC. and by the end of the 1800s encompassed a total of around 6 acres, bordered on the north and east by Elmwood cemetery. To the south is Elmwood avenue, and to the west is the ‘Pauper’s’ or city cemetery, which is just over the train tracks.

Benjamin Randolph:

Benjamin Randolph was born a free person of color in Kentucky and attended Oberlin College from 1854 until 1861. He started his career as a Presbyterian minister. During the Civil War, he enlisted with the Union, where he served as a Chaplain. After the War he stayed in the South, settling in Charleston, where he co-founded the Charleston Journal Newspaper. He also worked for the Freedman’s Bureau in education and became interested in politics. He became a leader in the Republican party in South Carolina, and an assistant to the superintendent of education, opening schools across the state. He was elected as a state senator in Orangeburg county in 1868. In a campaign trip across Abbeville county the same year he was gunned down in broad daylight by three assassins. One man was held on the murder but later released, no one was ever charged.

The New York Times article says only, “a negro member of the South Carolina Senate, standing on the platform of a railroad car, is approached by three white men on horseback and deliberately shot.” There is no mention of his burial or grave location, and various other newspapers give conflicting accounts about Randolph being buried in Abbeville County where he was shot, his body being sent to Orangeburg where his home was, and being interred in Columbia, although there was at the time no a public cemetery for blacks outside of the ‘Lower’ or Pauper’s cemetery.

A large obelisk dedicated to Randolph was put in the cemetery and it is believed he was reinterred there in 1872.


As of 11/5/2010

A number of important citizens are buried at Randolph Cemetery, including many pioneering African-American legislators from the Reconstruction era:

Sen. William B. Nash (1822 – 1888) State Senator from Richland County (66)

Sen. Benjamin Franklin Randolph (1820/1837 – 1868) State Senator from Orangeburg County – Assasignated in 1868. The Cemetery was renamed after him. (48)

Sen. Henry Cardozo (1831-1886) – State Senator from Kershaw County (55)

Sen. William Fabriel Myers (1850-1917)- State Senator from Colleton County (67)

Sen. Lucius Wimbush (1839-1928) -State Senator from Richland County (89)

Sen. John Lee (1837-1881) – State Senator from Chester County (44)

Rep. Robert John Palmer (1849-1928) State Representative from Richland County (79)

Rep. William M. Simons (1810-1878) State Representative from Richland County (68)

Rep. Samuel B. Thompson (1837-1909) State Representative from Richland County (72)

Rep. Charles McDuffie Wilder (1835-1902) – The City of Columbia’s postmaster from 1869-1895 and city council member in Columbia, South Carolina (67)

Rep. Thomas W. Keitt (1845-1897) Newberry County (52)

Rep. Andrew Curtis (1811 / 1843 -1894) Richland County (83)

Prince Rivers, a delegate to the 1868 State Constitutional Convention, founder of Aiken County, and a trial judge for the Hamburg Massacre was buried at his request in Randolph Cemetery in 1887 in an unmarked grave.

Also buried there is  George Elmore, whose 1947 lawsuit Elmore v. Rice opened the all-white Democratic Primary to black voters. After the lawsuit Elmore experienced economic hardship and threats, and died in 1959 before his 54th birthday. In 1981 a group of citizens erected a plaque dedicated to him, reading: “Sacred to the Memory of George Elmore Who through unmatched Courage, Perseverance and Personal Sacrifice, brought The Legal Action by Which Black People May Participate in South Carolina Democratic Party Primary Elections- “Elmore vs. Rice,” 1947.”

In 1959, as a part of Urban Renewal efforts, the city began to bulldoze the cemetery. This action was stopped by Minnie Simmons Williams, who drew attention to the historical significance. Her and other descendants reestablished the Randolph Cemetery Association and sued for stewardship.

Randolph Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

Learn more about Randolph Cemetery and click to donate here:


Other Resources:

The Chicora foundation, a South Carolina public, non-profit heritage preservation organization founded in 1983, has information about burials at Randolph: https://www.chicora.org/pdfs/RC461.pdf


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