Born in 1914 to Arthur and Ada Randall, Dudley Felker Randall spent his childhood in Washington, D.C., his birthplace, and East St. Louis. His father was responsible for the young Randall’s awareness of political commitment; he frequently campaigned for blacks seeking political office, and he took Randall with him to hear such speakers as James Weldon Johnson and W. E. B. Du Bois (although Randall reports that at the time he “preferred playing baseball”). Randall’s public education continued when his family moved to Detroit. By this time, he was conscious not only of the political process but also of black literature. Having first begun to write poetry at the early age of thirteen, Randall purchased a copy of Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923) when he was sixteen; he was so impressed by Toomer’s precise images and powerful symbolism that Toomer became—and remained—his favorite black poet. By 1930, the time of his graduation from the public school system, also at sixteen, Randall was well read in the major writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
After graduation in the midst of the Great Depression, Randall eventually found work as a foundry worker for the Ford Motor Company from 1932 to 1937. Sometime in 1933, he met the poet Robert Hayden, also living in Detroit, with whom he shared his poetry and discussed the major poets of the time. Their exchange of poems and ideas was to help him sharpen his skills and was to remain a mutually enriching friendship for many years. By 1938, Randall had taken a job with the U.S. Post Office as a letter carrier, work he was to continue until...
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