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Madeline Worthy Williams

Madaline Worthy Williams (1894-1968) was a Trenton teacher and New Jersey’s first black assemblywoman. Williams earned this position in 1958.

Williams refused to encourage parents to send their children to a new all-black school in Trenton that the Board of Education built to improve overcrowded and deteriorating conditions at the current integrated school. Williams and one other teacher were fired over their refusal to follow these orders.

After her teaching career had ended, Williams and her husband moved to Orange, New Jersey. Williams became the youth division adviser of both the local Oranges-Maplewood branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the NJ State Conference of NAACP branches. Her work focused on character building and vocational guidance in young community members. Williams always emphasized a sense of community and responsible citizenship in her involvement with these committees.

Williams was also the vice president of the East Orange League of Women Voters in 1947. She was appointed by Governor Alfred Driscoll to the New Jersey Migrant Labor Board in 1952 and approached by the chairman of the Essex County Democratic Screening Committee to run as the Democratic Candidate for the New Jersey State Assembly in 1957. Williams won the election.

Controversy arose when Williams was selected to represent her state at the Assembly at the National Civil War Centennial Commission. Williams was denied accommodation at the hotel where the assembly was to be held. After her further requests to enter were denied, the New Jersey commission voted to boycott the celebration. Finally, President John F. Kennedy suggested it be moved to the Charleston army base and Williams found what might have been an unpleasant experience to be rewarding after all.

Questions to Explore

Why did Williams decide to become involved in politics?

What were Williams’ feelings on being the center of a debate over race relations?

Additional Resources

Burstyn Joan N. 1990. “Madaline Worthy Williams.” Past and Promise Lives of New Jersey Women. https://www.worldcat.org/title/54795110

Wildstein, David. “Trailblazer: Assemblywoman Madaline Williams.” New Jersey Globe. Mayfair Media, January 17, 2022. https://newjerseyglobe.com/trailblazer/trailblazer-assemblywoman-madaline-williams-4/.