Dudley Randall was born on January 14, 1914, in Washington, D.C. In 1920, his family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where his father, Arthur Randall, worked for Ford Motor Company. Randall began writing seriously at age thirteen, and in 1927 his first published poem appeared in the Detroit Free Press. Randall graduated from Detroit’s Eastern High School in 1930. He began working full-time at the Ford Motor Company foundry in 1932. After he was laid off in 1937, he served as a postal carrier and clerk for Detroit’s U.S. Post Office for several years. During this time, he became friends with the poet Robert Hayden, who also lived in Detroit. In 1943 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the South Pacific during World War II.
After returning from the Pacific front in 1946, Randall received a BA in English from Wayne State University in 1949 and an MA in library science from the University of Michigan in 1951. He went on to serve as a librarian at several universities, including the University of Detroit, where he was also the poet in residence.
In the 1960s, Randall became involved in the Black Arts Movement. He published “Ballad of Birmingham,” a poem in response to the tragic church bombing in Alabama, in 1963. In 1965 he established Broadside Press, which published many prominent African American poets. Broadside Press’s first book was Poem Counterpoem (1966), a collaboration between Randall and Margeret Esse Danner. In 1978, Black Enterprise magazine called him “the father of the black poetry movement of the 1960s.”
During his lifetime, Randall published several poetry collections, including A Litany of Friends: New and Selected Poems (Lotus Press, 1981) and More to Remember: Poems of Four Decades (Third World Press, 1971). He also edited the anthologies The Black Poets (Bantam Books, 1985) and For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and Death of Malcolm X (Broadside Press, 1967).
In 1981, Randall was appointed the poet laureate of Detroit. He died on August 5, 2000.