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North Jersey History Center Online Exhibits

African American Women

Morristown’s African-American population grew significantly during the later decades of the nineteenth century into the early twentieth century, tripling from 293 to 815 by 1900. During the twentieth century, the population continued to grow until reaching an all-time high of 4,145 in 1980. Life for many black New Jerseyans changed drastically during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; initially, men predominantly found jobs as laborers, while women found positions as laundresses and domestics. However, within Morristown, affluent residents did not hire African American servants and individuals were rarely seen in town, which continued into the early twentieth century. Rather, middle-class homeowners employed the majority of domestic labor, while others found work in restaurants and hotels, and as laborers on farms in Morris Township and the surrounding areas. 

Throughout the twentieth century, African-Americans faced the challenge of gaining entrance into a society that was often hostile towards their economic, social, and political achievements. When prevented from attaining greater status within the wider community, Morris County’s black citizens created their own community wherever possible. They created schools, churches, playgrounds, and places of business in order to maintain a safe place for family, friends, and colleagues to live and conduct business. Even with these separate places to learn, worship, work, and play, people continued to push towards gaining entrance into the wider society and contribute to its development. Many women were able to succeed in not only gaining access to the Morris County community for themselves, but also in opening doors for African Americans overall. These remarkable women opened doors for younger generations that followed.