This week we honor black leaders who exemplify faithful service, Samuel Howard Woodson, Jr. and Dr. Lena Frances Edwards.
Samuel Howard Woodson, Jr (May 8 1916-July 28, 1999) was a pastor, civil rights leader, and politician in New Jersey. He was the first African American to be elected Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly.
Rev. Woodson was born in Philadelphia and attended public schools. He received a B.S. degree in education from Cheyney Training School for Teachers (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.) In 1940 he became the first graduate student to attend the School of Divinity at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
After receiving a B.D. at Morehouse, he continued his postgraduate work in sociology at Atlanta University. He was ordained a minister in 1941 and in 1944 served at the Grace Temple Baptist Church in Lawnside, NJ. He moved to Trenton in 1946 where he served as pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church for 53 years.
Rev. Woodson was active in the civil rights movement as well as the president of the Trenton branch of the NAACP. In 1960, he was elected as the President of the State Conference of the NAACP. During his tenure, he was influential in leading Gov. Richard Hughes to begin dialogues regarding the Black community in areas concerning homeownership and access to mortgages for minority applicants.
Rev. Woodson was elected to the Trenton City Council in 1962 making him the first African American elected to public office in Mercer County. In 1964 he won a special election to serve in the General Assembly. After his long service, in 1974 he was chosen speaker making him the first African American to hold a statehouse speakership since the Reconstruction.
Dr. Lena Frances Edwards (September 17, 1900 – December 3, 1986) was a New Jersey Catholic physician who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Lena Frances Edwards was born in Washington, D.C. She was the daughter of a dentist and an oral surgeon, Thomas Edwards and homemaker, Marie Coakley Edwards.
Dr. Edwards was valedictorian of her class at Dunbar High School in 1917. She completed her undergraduate studies at Howard University in three years and finished Howard University Medical School in 1924. She married a fellow medical student, Keith Madison following graduation. The couple had six children together.
In 1925, Dr. Edwards and her husband moved to Jersey City, NJ. She and her husband began a community practice. She became an advocate and speaker on matters of public health and natural childbirth. She served a growing immigrant population in Hudson County. Although she was part of the staff of Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City, she was denied medical residence. Despite numerous barriers, her tenacity gained her admittance to residency in obstetrics and gynecology in 1945.
Dr. Edwards continued her career in New Jersey until 1954. She returned to Howard University Medical School to teach obstetrics. She was offered the position of chair, however, she declined because of her objections to abortion. She became the advisor of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Maternal Welfare Committee of the District of Columbia Urban League.
Dr. Edwards was a devout Catholic. She was a lay member of the Third Order of Saint Francis. Her faith and service led her to establish Our Lady of Guadeloupe Maternity Clinic in Hereford, Texas for migrant worker families. In 1965, she moved back to Washington and worked for the Office of Economic Opportunity and Project Head Start until 1970.
Her faithful service was acknowledged by President Johnson in 1964 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1966, she was given an honorary degree by St. Peter’s College (now St. Peter’s University) She was awarded the Poverello Medal in 1967.
She continued her advocacy for minority and women’s health care and the protection of the unborn. She died in 1986 in Lakewood, New Jersey.