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Jan. 3, 1985 - U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph Retires
By Heath Harrison
June 9, 2013


Jennings Randolph was a West Virginia political institution, serving 40 years in the United States Congress representing West Virginia as both a Representative and a Senator.

Named for famed prairie populist William Jennings Bryan, Randolph was born in Salem, West Virginia on March 8, 1902 to a politically-minded family. Both his father and grandfather served as mayor of his Harrison County hometown.

Randolph graduated from Salem College in 1922 and began his career working in journalism. He made his first run for office in 1930 at the age of 28, mounting an unsuccessful challenge to Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Bowman. Two years later, he tried again and defeated Bowman to begin serving in the U.S. House.

Randolph took office at the same time as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Congressman attended Roosevelt’s inaugural and worked as a champion of the president’s New Deal agenda to combat the Great Depression.

As a Congressman, Randolph developed a strong relationship with the Roosevelts, working with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on her Arthurdale project, in which funds from the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 were used to develop a government-planned town for West Virginia families hit by the Depression. Those who moved to the Preston County homestead found employment in the form of factory work and farming co-ops. After the Depression ended, the Arthurdale homes were sold to the town’s residents.

Randoph was re-elected to the House six more times, but was defeated in 1946 when Republicans won a landslide in the first post-WWII midterm election. After his loss, Randolph took a job as the director of public relations at Capital Airlines.

Randolph’s time away from D.C. lasted a little over a decade. When U.S. Sen. Matthew M. Neely died in 1958, Randolph ran in the special election to succeed him. That same year, Robert C. Byrd defeated Republican W. Chapman Revercomb for West Virginia’s other U.S. Senate seat, and Randolph and Byrd began nearly three decades of serving together in Washington.

Randolph was known as a liberal in the Senate and worked with President Lyndon Johnson on his anti-poverty Great Society programs and supported the creation of Medicare.

He broke with other southern senators, including Byrd, and voted for both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Randolph considered his proudest achievement the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. The senator had pursued the amendment for three decades, first attempting to get it passed in 1942.

Congress finally voted to propose the amendment on March 23, 1971, on Randolph’s 11th try. It was ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures and adopted four months later.

Randolph believed the idealism of young voters would benefit the country.

"They possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world and are anxious to rectify those ills," he said, upon the amendment's ratification.

As a representative, Randolph proposed legislation to establish a Cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peace to help the U.S. in resolve international conflicts. While the legislation did not pass, Randolph continued to work for the idea. In 1984, during his last year in the Senate, Congress passed the United States Institute of Peace, partially in honor of Randolph. The legislation established a nonpartisan, independent institute to “promote international peace and the resolution of conflicts among the nations and peoples of the world without recourse to violence.”

Randolph announced his retirement from the Senate in 1984, after being re-elected to his position four times. He personally approached then-W.Va. Gov. Jay Rockefeller about running to succeed him in the Senate. Rockefeller was elected to the seat that fall.

Randolph passed away in 1998 at age 96. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving member of the 1933 Congress that passed Roosevelt’s First 100 Days agenda to create the New Deal.

He was buried alongside his parents and his wife, Mary Babb Randolph, at Seventh-Day Baptist Church Cemetery in Salem. The Jennings Randolph Lake in Mineral County is named in his honor.

This week's video contains two WCHS reports from the end of Randolph's political career. The first, by Lisa Deegan from Nov. 11, 1984, covers a dinner held in the Senator's honor at Marshall University in Huntington. The second is an interview with Randolph from Feb. 23, 1985, a few weeks after his retirement, in which he reflects back on his life of public service

BONUS: A 7-minute report from 1984 by ABC News' Cokie Roberts in which Randolph offers his memories of his career, FDR and the New Deal is available on YouTube.

Remember When: Jan. 3, 1985 - U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph Retires

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