Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver continues to make history


Lt Governor Elect Sheila Oliver official headshot in Trenton, N.J. on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

By Clyde Hughes

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver continues to make her own history as one of a handful of statewide African-American legislative leaders in the country.

Oliver has made her own mark in African-American history and this month, Women’s History Month. The Newark native, who became lieutenant governor last year, is one of three black females in that position in the country.

Oliver is joined by Kentucky Republican Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, who has been in office since 2015, and Illinois Democratic Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, who took office in January. While there are no black governors, there are seven black lieutenant governors.

Republican Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford joins Democrat Justin Fairfax in Virginia, Garlin Gilchrist in Michigan and Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin.

Oliver served in one of the New Jersey’s most diverse cabinets ever under Gov. Phil Murphy, which includes African-American women Zakiya Smith Ellis, who leads higher education, Deirdre Webster Cobb, who leads the civil service commission, and Tahesha Way, as secretary of state.

She is becoming nationally-known as well. Her personal essay has been included in the new book “Why I Run: 35 Progressive Candidates Who Are Changing Politics” by Kate Childs Graham.

Oliver is included with former Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams, former Florida governor candidate Andrew Gillum, newly elected Native American New Mexico U.S. Rep. Debra Anne Haaland, California U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, and Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett.

“On my 15th birthday, in 1967 Newark erupted,” Oliver wrote in the book. “It wasn’t a birthday party. It was the third day of what we had come to call the Newark Rebellion. From the ashes of my city came new voices. I am one of them.”

Oliver was a history maker before becoming the first black woman in New Jersey to serve as lieutenant governor. She served as the first African-American woman Assembly Speaker in the state.

In the assembly, she supported efforts to increase the minimum wage and fair taxation. She for cutting health care for women and children while being an advocate for social justice.

Homegrown, Oliver graduated from Weequahic High School in Newark and earned a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. She also earned a master’s at Columbia University in New York.

She started her public career as director of the Office of Youth Services and Special Projects for the City of Newark, within the Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training and then worked as development director for The Newark Literacy Campaign while at Caldwell College as the coordinator of career guidance within the Educational Opportunity Fund Program.

She won a spot as an Essex County freeholder in 1996 and in 2000 became the assistant county administrator in Essex County. Oliver was first elected to the general assembly in 2003 and became only the third woman to rise to the level of speaker in 2010.

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