Rev. Dr. Samuel Howard Woodson, Jr. wore many hats during his tenure and life in Trenton. Woodson, a former pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church and leader in the civil rights movement, was the first African-American Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly.
Born in Philadelphia, Woodson graduated from Cheney Training School for Teachers and Morehouse College’s School of Divinity, where he was ordained in 1941. Five years later, Woodson relocated to Trenton to become the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, where he would stay for 53 years.
According to shilohtrenton.com/history, under Reverend Woodson’s leadership, the church grew to more than 1,000. “The increasing membership and the mounting demands for enlarged worship and community services challenged us to undertake the construction of a new edifice which was completed in 1972 and was estimated to be valued at more than 1.2 million dollars, making it one of the largest and most expensive capital building projects of any black church throughout New Jersey.”
Woodson took on a second role in New Jersey during the fifties as he led the local and state NAACP. This opportunity set his fight for change in motion as he ran for Trenton City Council in 1962, ultimately becoming the first African American elected to office in Mercer County. Woodson wouldn’t stop there. He aimed his sights higher. An opening became available as Gov. Richard Hughes appointed Assemblyman Vincent Panaro to serve as the Mercer County Prosecutor in 1964. This allowed for a special election to be held that fall to replace Panaro. Woodson entered the election and beat the Republican candidate Sidney Souter by 5,368 votes, according to newjerseyglobe.com.
Woodson stayed for over a decade, becoming the nation’s first African-American to serve in that capacity in any state. He served under serval New Jersey Governors and was the first Commissioner of the Department of Personnel, now the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. He did all of this well, living on Edgewood Avenue in Trenton’s West Ward.