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PHOTO/CAPTION: Senator Jennings Randolph

Jennings Randolph Dies at 96

by James Gashel

On Friday, May 8, Jennings Randolph died in a nursing home in St. Louis, Missouri, where he had lived for approximately ten years. In the history of American politics, Senator Randolph may be remembered best for serving the people of West Virginia as a member of the House of Representatives from 1933 to 1947 and later as a Senator from 1958 until his retirement at the end of 1984. When he did retire, Senator Randolph was the only member of Congress still in office after serving during President Roosevelt's first 100 days.

His legislative legacy includes leadership on behalf of the New Deal programs of the 1930's and support for building the interstate highway system from the earliest days of its conception in the 1940's. But with all of this, Senator Randolph expressed the greatest pride in his work to provide opportunities for blind people to become productive and self-supporting through the operation of small businesses.

Who but Jennings Randolph could have known in 1936 that the operation of "vending stands" by blind people in public buildings would lead to rewarding, lucrative employment for thousands in the decades since? A measure of our respect for him is shown in the fact that Jennings Randolph as a private citizen was named as the second recipient of the Federation's Newel Perry award, which was established in the 1950's. We presented him with this special recognition in 1956, although at the time he had not served in Congress for many years.

From the day he began serving in the Senate in 1958, he displayed the Newel Perry award in his Washington office with special pride and continued to champion our cause throughout the remainder of his public life. He demonstrated that fact in a tangible way by continuing to work on bills to expand the rights and opportunities for blind vendors, culminating in the Randolph-Sheppard Act amendments of 1974.

This legislation, which is still in effect today, provides a legal priority for blind people over all others in the operation of businesses on federal property. Proving that he could change with the times, Senator Randolph fought successfully to scrap the concept of blind persons' receiving vending stands in favor of far more lucrative opportunities available in vending facilities, including vending machines, cafeterias, and other large-scale businesses.

Much of his philosophy of government in providing support for small minorities has been enshrined in the opening words of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, which have echoed down through the more than six decades since its enactment. Although the language may not be of the politically correct style often used and over-used today, the philosophy of this law—"for the purpose of providing blind persons with remunerative employment, enlarging the economic opportunities of the blind, and stimulating the blind to greater efforts in striving to make themselves self-supporting"—is still sound and up-to-date. This, for blind people, is the greatest legacy of Jennings Randolph and the reason why he will always be remembered.