Oral History Interview with
Member, U.S. House of Representatives, Fourth District of Missouri, 1959-77
William J. Randall
November 14, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson
See Also Additional William J. Randall Oral History Number 2 by Niel M. Johnson dated December 8, 1989 .
See Also Additional William J. Randall Oral History conducted by the William Jewell College Oral History Project dated March 15, 1976 .
[ Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript| List of Subjects Discussed ]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
William J. Randall
November 14, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson
JOHNSON: Let's start out with the birthplace and the date of your birth, and your parents' names.
RANDALL: I was born in Independence, Missouri, at 1126 North Spring Street, on July 16, 1909. My father was William R. Randall; my mother was Lillie B. Randall.
JOHNSON: What was your father's occupation?
RANDALL: He was a contractor. Well, to back up, he was a brick manufacturer to start with. He had four or five plants in Kansas and most unfortunately all of them failed because in those days he relied on natural gas, and those were shallow gas wells. If the wells would
run out, he couldn't afford the hauling of coal; so he moved about four or five times, to Iola, Independence, Coffeeville--all in southeast Kansas. Then, he was later a contractor. First, he was a masonry contractor, and finally a general contractor-- Randall Brothers and Hurst.
JOHNSON: So, when you were born the family was living out here?
RANDALL: We lived at 1126 North Spring, for just a short time, and then we moved over on North Union Street, about the seven or eight hundred block north. I lived there until I was about three years old and then moved to 403 West Maple, the corner of Maple and Spring. I was three years old when we went there, and we lived there until about 1933. Then I moved to 201 South Pleasant where I now live. I lived there until I was married, and then after I was married and until I went into the war we had several residences.
JOHNSON: Did you get your education here in Independence?
RANDALL: I went to the public schools of Independence, Missouri, through high school. Then I went to the good old Junior College of Kansas City, which was probably the toughest school in America. Out of 1,500 that
would enter every fall, 125 would graduate two years later. I was very proud to be among those 125. I went to the University of Missouri; that would have been in about '29. I was sitting in a class of James Harvey Rogers the day of the crash. He later was President Roosevelt's financial adviser. He lost $22,000 in the cotton futures, and adjourned the class immediately. I stayed ahead there, and worked off of three undergraduate degrees. I worked off an AB in Arts and Science, a BS in business administration, and a BS in education. I combined the three of them. I had to go back one additional year to get the BS in education. I graduated from the University in 1931, and was in the graduate school in '32 and '33. I wrote a thesis for the master’s degree, but did not take the oral examination. I had to pull out before that. As I said, I had a BS in education and a BS in business administration, and was short of masters by just the oral exam.
JOHNSON: A masters in education?
RANDALL: A masters in economics and finance.
JOHNSON: You went to the same high school as Harry Truman went to up here, is that right? Before it burned.
RANDALL: Well, yes, right here at the old high school; right up here, that's correct. I don't know if he went to Ott School or not, but I went to Ott School.
JOHNSON: Well, I think he attended Ott elementary school, but of course he went to the one high school in Independence.
RANDALL: Right here at Maple and Pleasant Street.
JOHNSON: Where Palmer Junior High is?
RANDALL: It's called Palmer now. It was the old Independence High School before there was ever Chrisman.
JOHNSON: I don't suppose you had any of the same teachers did you in high school?
RANDALL: Oh, my goodness, no. I'm just a child compared to Harry Truman.
JOHNSON: Then, in '33 you're short of masters but you quit school to go to work then?
RANDALL: I had to. I had to. The dark days of the Depression were coming on. I had enrolled but I didn't go any further. I didn't go any further, because I had to come back to Kansas City. If you will recall the
bank holiday of 1933, they didn't even run the street cars back and forth. I actually walked from Independence to Kansas City because everything was closed. Roosevelt didn't go in until March of '33, but anyhow I came home in January. I tried to get a job teaching school because of my teaching degree, but I couldn't get it. So then I decided to become a lawyer. Well, actually just in January when I came back I entered law school. I was telling about the cars on the bank holiday; I had to walk back and forth.
JOHNSON: So when you found there wasn't a teaching job available, you entered law school. Where?
RANDALL: Well, it was the good old Kansas City School of Law. It was at 918 Baltimore, on the east side of Baltimore Street between 9th and l0th.
JOHNSON: Another Truman alma mater.
RANDALL: That's correct. It later became a part of the University of Kansas City, Missouri, as the School of Law. But believe me, in my judgment, I say without any reservation, that the lawyers that came out of that school were better prepared than any lawyer today, because they had the men who came right out of the
courtroom. They had been in court all day themselves, the teachers. They gave you the nuts and bolts. You might have acquired a lot of legal theories, and a lot of legal, what should I say, philosophy in some of the law schools today, but you don't have the nuts and bolts to go into court. We knew the procedure, we knew the things to do next. We knew the rules of evidence; we knew the rules of pleading; we knew the whole works when we came out of there. In fact, I won a case in October, a trial in which the court sits as a jury. I didn't get the word of passing the bar until September. I handled it myself and won it because of that training.
JOHNSON: Well, what would you consider to be the most important influence on, let's say, your political and personal values at this time?
RANDALL: The word "influence" there, I guess, would mean what caused me to do . . .
JOHNSON: Who and what?
RANDALL: I never really intended to hold public office. I guess you could say the background came about by the fact that some of my so-called ancestors, or predecessors, had been in public office. My grandfather, and I say without any apology or any
humility, was one of the leaders of this town; he was William M. Randall. He had a brick plant of his own. He could have been mayor many different times and declined it. He was a city alderman. I had an uncle, Uncle Joe Randall, who was a city alderman. All of my family have been interested in the governmental sector, the public life, but I never really had any ambition except--maybe it was my dear mother, bless her heart. We had a relative, Samuel J. Randall, of Pennsylvania who at one time was Speaker of the House. And she [mother] said, "Oh William, I know you'll never be Speaker, but I hope I'll live to see you go to Congress." Well, she did. She did.
JOHNSON: So she had an interest in national politics, not just local.
RANDALL: Well, because of this alleged relative--I'm not sure he was ever any real relation--but she thought he was.
JOHNSON: Well, what about the Depression and the New Deal? Did they draw your attention to national issues?
RANDALL: Frankly, I was not desperate, but so hard up that I was just trying to get ahead and get a profession. It's a long story why I lost out becoming a teacher.
There was a split vote in those days with three Democrats and three Republicans [on the local school board]. I think I should back up and say that I actually held a fellowship at the University of Missouri. I actually taught freshman and sophomores at the University when I was working on my masters. Of course, I started out as a grader and all that kind of stuff, but later actually I held classes for freshmen and sophomores, and one of my competitors at that time was the late Bill Gilmore. He quit about the same time and became a competitor again for the one job that was open. He got the job, and I didn't.
JOHNSON: What kind of a job was that?
RANDALL: Teaching some kind of social sciences, or something like that.
JOHNSON: At what level, high school?
RANDALL: High school level.
JOHNSON: And that was a political . . .
RANDALL: Well, it was political in the sense that there were three Democrats and three Republicans. Actually, the defector, the lady who was a defector, was a Mrs. Dickinson for whom Dickinson Road was named down here.
If I ever get a chance, I think one of the reasons I consented to come out here was the fact that maybe it wil