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Thursday, April 4, 2019

New Jersey Black Women's History Month Part 1

April is Black Women's History Month. New Jersey was home to innumerable black women who dedicated their lives toward the betterment of life for others and changed the course of history. One such Black heroine is Madeline A. Williams. Her rise from humble beginnings in the South to becoming the first Black woman elected to the New Jersey Legislature is remarkable and inspiring.  Ms. Williams was born 1894 in Brunswick, Georgia; her life as is chronicled in The Women's Project of New Jersey (1990) Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women. As a young child, she attended a segregated all black elementary school. An excellent student, she later was matriculated at Atlanta University which she attended for one year. 

In 1917, she moved to Trenton New Jersey with her family. She attended a school which is now known as The College of New Jersey. She aspired to help others and was a public school teacher in the Trenton school district for almost a decade. She resided the remainder of her life in New Jersey.

Ms. Williams married Samuel A. Williams in New York City in 1926 and the couple had one son born in 1927. After her son was born, she moved with them to East Orange, New Jersey and began her long and notable social activism in both the civic and church sectors. She became active in leadership capacities in organized youth activities and the NAACP and eventually was made a board member of New Jersey’s NAACP.

Her heart-based causes propelled her to promote betterment for youth and migrant workers. Williams volunteered for the YWCA in several New Jersey cities according to The Encyclopedia of New Jersey. She was one of the seminal organizers of the East Orange League of Women Voters who elected her as its Vice President in 1947. Her efforts for betterment for migrant workers did not go unnoticed and New Jersey Governor Alfred Driscoll appointed her to the New Jersey Migrant Labor Board in 1952. 

Her work on the Migrant Labor Board was successful and notable and it stimulated her interest in politics, particularly as to issues regarding child labor and migrant labor. New Jersey voters elected her to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1957, her thereby becoming the first black woman elected to either house of the state legislature. New Jersey voters reelected her in 1959, to that position. In the Assembly, she became an outspoken and ardent advocate for child welfare, child labor, and fought for migrant labor legislation particularly as for children. 

Essex County elected her to be its Registrar in 1960, and again in 1965. Her political influence was becoming known in Democratic political circle and she became an alternate delegate to the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

Williams was not one to back done from controversy where injustice was concerned.

In 1961, the Civil War Centennial Commission organized a convention meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. The meeting’s purpose was to commemorate the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter which had taken place one hundred years prior. The meeting was to take place at at the Francis Marion Hotel with accommodations for the states’ delegates. She was appointed as an official delegate to attend this meeting as part of the New Jersey delegation. When she arrived, the Francis Marion Hotel denied her accommodations because of her race.

Not backing down from this injustice, she became involved in a widely publicized dispute over segregated hotel accommodations at the Williams Marion Hotel.

President John F. Kennedy, an ex officio member of the commission, supported the protest of the segregated hotel accommodations.  In an affront to the concepts of justice and in ironic blatant disregard for the spirit of the meeting itself, the Civil War Centennial Commission initially refused to change the location for the meeting. After President Kennedy became involved, the commission eventually changed their position and relocated its meetings to the Charleston Naval Base. 

The summer of 1964 was one of the most politically explosive chapters in this country’s history. It saw the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, a coalition of national, regional, and local civil rights organizations organized to raise awareness of the on-going civil rights crisis in Mississippi, The Mississippi Freedom Summer Project was designed to bring national attention though the media to the injustices experienced by Blacks in Mississippi who attempted to exercise their voting rights.

The 1964 National Democratic Convention was one of the most significant of the Democratic Conventions.  Madeline A. Williams’ ability and influence was recognized and expanded when the National Democratic party elected her to be Vice Chairwoman of the Delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Madeline A. Williams let her light shine. Fannie Lou Hamer, another Black Heroine who spoke at that Convention, is often known for her saying “I don’t mind my light shining.”

Public radio has Fannie Lou Hamer’s powerful and moving recorded Testimony Before the Credentials Committee, of the Democratic National Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey - August 22, 1964 which can be heard here

American Public Media describes Fannie Lou Hamer’s powerful presentation at the Convention as follows:

In 1964, with the support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), Hamer ran for Congress. The incumbent was a white man who had been elected to office twelve times. In an interview with the Nation, Hamer said, "I'm showing the people that a Negro can run for office." The reporter observed: "Her deep, powerful voice shakes the air as she sits on the porch or inside, talking to friends, relatives and neighbors who drop by on the one day each week when she is not campaigning. Whatever she is talking about soon becomes an impassioned plea for a change in the system that exploits the Delta Negroes. 'All my life I've been sick and tired,' she shakes her head. 'Now I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.'"

SNCC had formed the MFDP to expand black voter registration and challenge the legitimacy of the state's all-white Democratic Party. MFDP members arrived at the 1964 Democratic National Convention intent on unseating the official Mississippi delegation or, failing that, getting seated with them. On August 22, 1964, Hamer appeared before the convention's credentials committee and told her story about trying to register to vote in Mississippi. Threatened by the MFDP's presence at the convention, President Lyndon Johnson quickly preempted Hamer's televised testimony with an impromptu press conference. But later that night, Hamer's story was broadcast on all the major networks.

New Jersey’s Madeline A. Williams and Mississippi’s Fannie Lou Hamer are but two of countless Black women who let their light shine for the betterment of others and changed the course of history.

If You Are Thinking of Simply Resigning

If you are thinking of simply resigning because of race discrimination in your workplace and/or because you notified your employer about racial harassment and no action was taken, you should contact an attorney experienced in employment law before you do so, to explore your legal options in the safest way for you.

What You Can Do

I am an aggressive and compassionate employment law attorney who is experienced in successfully representing persons who were subjected to racial harassment and retaliation in the workplace and/or were fired. If you have experienced racism at work, or if you reported it and no action was taken, if you are thinking of resigning, or think you will be fired, or have been fired, it is important that you consult with an attorney who is experienced in discrimination.

If you are being subjected to workplace discrimination, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in southern, central, western and northern NJ to meet with clients.



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