The freed people of the Randolph plantation in Roanoke never received a penny of their endowment. While enslaved, they worked to make another man wealthy. When freed, they encountered white hostility and aggression and were robbed at gunpoint. However, their story does not end in tragedy. Many of those who had been enslaved rose to national and local fame. Some fought in wars to preserve rights that had once been denied to them. Other community members altered the social fabric in subtler ways.
This is a story that has been told countless times, in many different traditions. It has appeared in the news since 1833 and up through the present. It is the subject of a handful of dissertations, published articles, and amateur and self-published history books. While biographies of John Randolph abound, no such definitive work exists on this topic.
In 2016, a crew of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center (NAAMCC) staff, National Park Service interns, and Ohio History Connection employees traveled to the Rossville Historic House Museum where the late Helen Gilmore, a Randolph descendant, had fought to keep this story alive. Upon her death, she and her husband bequeathed the museum & contents to the NAAMCC. This included three-dimensional objects and a substantial archive collection, the Rossville Museum Archives Collection (NAM MSS 2012), of photographs, a family bible, a map of the Jackson Cemetery in Rossville, and original paintings, among other local history treasures. Over the next few months, we will explore the history of the Randolph Freedpeople in greater detail, celebrating their triumphs, legal battles, and local legacies.