Randolph Blackwell was born on 10 March 1927 in Greensboro, North Carolina. He attended Dudley High School, where he was a member of the NAACP’s Youth Council. During World War II he was drafted into the army, but after his discharge Blackwell returned to Greensboro and attended North Carolina A&T University, graduating in 1949. During that time, Blackwell remained active in NAACP civil rights initiatives, worked in the campaigns of F. A. Mayfield and Brody McCauley for city council, and also himself ran for the North Carolina General Assembly.
Blackwell earned a law degree from Howard University in 1953 and then secured a post at Winston-Salem Teacher’s College. Blackwell became associate professor of government at Alabama A&M College in 1954 and was a leader in the 1962 sit-ins there. In 1963 Blackwell became field director of VEP, a non-partisan voter registration program administered by the Southern Regional Council. Blackwell was selected as program director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in August 1964. After disagreements with other SCLC leadership, Blackwell left the organization in 1966 and was appointed director of Southern Rural Action, an economic development organization working in the Deep South. In the late 1970s he served as director of the Office of Minority Business Enterprise in Plains, Georgia, and in the 1980s he directed the Office of Minority Business Programs and Development in Atlanta. Blackwell is a recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize and the National Bar Association’s Equal Justice Award. He passed away on May 21, 1981.