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Former Assemblywoman Madaline Williams. (Photo: New Jersey Historical Commission)

Trailblazer: Assemblywoman Madaline Williams

First Black woman to serve in the New Jersey Legislature

By David Wildstein, January 16 2023 12:03 am

Madaline Williams (1894-1968) was the first Black woman to serve in the New Jersey Legislature.  She was elected to the State Assembly in 1957 and re-elected in 1959.  An East Orange, Democrat, she was elected Essex County Register of Deeds and Mortgages in 1960, defeating County Clerk Anthony Giuliano, and re-elected in 1965.

Williams became part of a national debate over race relations in March 1961 after being chosen as one of New Jersey’s representatives at the National Civil War Centennial in South Carolina.  The New Jersey delegation threatened to boycott the event at a segregated Charleston hotel where Williams would not be welcome.   Leading the move for the boycott was a young Republican assemblyman, Raymond H. Bateman.

“We would prefer if you did not come,” said Nat Cabell, a South Carolina state representative.  “There will be an awful lot of ignoring done.”

President John F. Kennedy intervened on Williams’ behalf and arranged to move the event to the Charleston Naval Air Base.

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