Randolph Cemetery is located in the downtown area of Columbia, S.C. and is the first cemetery formally established for the city’s African American community. In 1871, nineteen local black legislators and businessmen came together to form an association to establish a respectable place for burial for blacks in Columbia. Prior to this period African Americans were buried near the river in the local Potter’s Field along with poor whites. Seeking to commemorate Senator Benjamin Franklin Randolph’s contributions, 19 men in Columbia’s African American community created the Randolph Cemetery Association, purchased three acres of land from a pre-existing white cemetery (Elmwood Cemetery) in 1872 for $900 and an additional acre in 1899.
Although several sources date 1868 as the earliest burials in Randolph Cemetery, there are graves that date as early as 1864, as well as burials from the periods of 1866-1868 and 1870-1871. This suggests that Elmwood Cemetery may have been allowing African Americans to be interred in this area prior to establishment of the Randolph Cemetery Association.
Randolph Cemetery was the most prominent African American cemetery in Columbia from the late nineteenth century throughout much of the twentieth century, and it is the final resting place of many of Columbia’s most notable African American figures and families. More than ten legislators from the Reconstruction Era are buried here including Senator Henry Cardozo, Representative John Palmer, Representative Charles McDuffie Wilder, Senator Benjamin Franklin Randolph, and Senator John Lee.
In recent years a preservation effort has focused on restoring and preserving the historic site.
Photo courtesy of the Randolph Cemetery: Mapping and Documentation of Historic African American Site and http://www.historicrandolphcemetery.org/preservation/