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Senator Jennings Randolph (March 8, 1902-May 8, 1998) served in the U.S. Congress for 40 years. He was born in Salem, Harrison County. His grandfather, Jesse Randolph, was the first mayor of Salem, a member of the state legislature, and the founder of Salem College (now Salem International University). His father, Ernest Randolph, was a lawyer and active in Democratic politics.

Jennings Randolph attended public school and Salem College Academy, from which he graduated in 1920. He then attended Salem College, where he was on the track, tennis, and basketball teams. In 1923, while still a student, he was elected to the college’s board of trustees, on which he served for 50 years. He worked as a reporter and sports editor at the Clarksburg Telegram as a college student. After graduating from Salem in 1924, he worked in Charleston for the magazine, West Virginia Review. In 1926, Randolph became athletic director at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins. His football team won national fame for beating Navy 2-0 in 1926.

In 1930, the 28-year-old Randolph ran for Congress in the Second District, losing to three-term Republican incumbent Frank Bowman by only 1,111 votes. In 1932, Randolph ran again. This time he defeated Bowman by a 53 percent to 46 percent margin, part of the Franklin Roosevelt landslide. Randolph was present at the Roosevelt inauguration, and when he retired from the Senate more than 50 years later he was the last member of Congress to have served during Roosevelt’s first term. He was a solid supporter of Roosevelt’s New Deal and something of a Roosevelt favorite. He worked with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on her project to create a model town at Arthurdale.

Randolph was reelected by solid margins in the next six elections, but in 1946, when Republicans won a big majority in the House, he was defeated. On leaving Congress, he became director of public relations at Capital Airlines, which later became part of United Airlines. An aviation enthusiast, in 1958 he flew from Morgantown to Washington on a plane fueled with gasoline made from West Virginia coal.

In January 1958, U.S. Sen. Matthew Neely died. Governor Underwood appointed Republican John Hoblitzell to fill the vacancy until a special election could be held in November. Randolph ran for the seat, beating former Governor Marland for the Democratic nomination. In the same primary, Congressman Robert Byrd was nominated to run against incumbent Republican Sen. Chapman Revercomb for a full term. There was a recession in 1958, which turned out to be a strong Democratic year. Both Byrd and Randolph were elected with 59 percent of the vote. Because he was elected to fill a vacancy, Randolph took office shortly after the election. Thus, he became West Virginia’s senior senator, with a few week seniority over Byrd, who was sworn in at the regular inauguration in January 1959.

From 1965 to 1981, Randolph was chairman of the Senate’s powerful Public Works Committee and from 1981 to 1985 the ranking minority member on the committee. Randolph supported the Interstate Highway program and massive road-building efforts. He sponsored the 1965 Appalachian Regional Development Act, which created the Appalachian Regional Commission, and remained a primary supporter of the ARC throughout his service in the Senate. He sponsored legislation to aid the handicapped, to compensate victims of black lung disease, to ensure clean air and clean water, and to fund vocational and career education. On many cultural issues Randolph took conservative stands, but he supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent civil rights legislation. Eleven times he sponsored a constitutional amendment to allow 18-year-olds to vote, and in 1971 had the satisfaction of seeing it approved. He sponsored the creation of the National Academy of Peace.

Jennings Randolph was, in the tradition of his namesake William Jennings Bryan, an old-style orator. When he rose to announce that he had ‘‘a few words’’ to say, he could be counted on to contribute many more than a few. Yet his good nature and his self-evident good intentions ensured that he caused few resentments from colleagues, by whom, on both sides of the aisle, he was held in great affection.

In 1960, 1966, and 1972, Senator Randolph was reelected by wide margins. In 1978, at age 76, he was opposed by former (and future) Governor Moore, and for the first time conducted a modern campaign with pollsters and carefully calibrated television advertisements. He was reelected with just 50.5 percent of the vote. As this term approached its end, it was not clear whether he would run for reelection. Governor Rockefeller, who had worked hard for Randolph’s reelection in 1978, was invited to Randolph’s Capitol hideaway office. In his 1998 eulogy of Randolph, Rockefeller recalled, ‘‘He had a very nice breakfast there. He was very relaxed. Then he simply turned to me and he said, ‘Jay, would you like to be the next senator from West Virginia?’ ’’

To the public Randolph said, ‘‘It’s been a happy road. I have no regrets . . . I believe the Bible says there is a season and a time for every purpose. It is time for me not to run for reelection.’’ Jennings Randolph spent his final years in a nursing home and died at age 96.

This Article was written by Michael Barone

Last Revised on December 08, 2015


Cite This Article

Barone, Michael "Jennings Randolph." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 08 December 2015. Web. 24 June 2017.

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