New Jersey Lt. Governor Shiela Oliver, Black Leader In State Politics, Dies At 71

She’s remembered as a trailblazer who mentored the next generation of Black women in elected office.

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver, the trailblazing first Black woman elected to statewide office, died Tuesday (Aug. 1). She was 71.

The New York Times reports that Oliver was rushed to the hospital the day before she died. Neither state officials nor her family revealed her cause of death. In a statement, Oliver’s family said, “ We will remember her commitment to the people of New Jersey. May her memory be a source of comfort and strength to all who knew her.”

The Essex County, N.J.,  Democrat, who was also the first Black woman to serve as the state’s Assembly Speaker, was considered a potential successor to New Jersey Gov. Philip D. Murphy. She was elected lieutenant governor in 2017 as Murphy’s running mate.

Murphy and his family “are incredibly saddened and distraught” by Oliver’s passing, the governor said in a statement, according to CBS New York. After underscoring her historic political accomplishments, Murphy noted that she led the Department of Community Affairs for his administration, tackling “some of the most challenging issues facing our state,” including revitalizing cities, affordable housing and homelessness.

“Beyond all of that, she was an incredibly genuine and kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable,” Murphy added.

N.J. Democratic State Committee Chair LeRoy Jones Jr.,told CBS New York that Oliver was a friend and political ally who was “the best of the human spirit.” He noted that Oliver was a mentor to him and many others.

"She will always be there in spirit to illuminate the lives of women, girls, particularly African American, minorities, to know that things are possible," Jones said.

Oliver was an active member of Emerge America, an organization that trains Democratic women for political office. “She was always there for me. Offering guidance. Helping with strategy. She would stand in the gap and serve as a shield if she needed to at times. I loved her,” New Jersey Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake, a former Emerge America participant, told The Times.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, chairwoman of the Assembly’s Black Caucus, considered Oliver an invaluable mentor in her political career.

“Having the privilege of witnessing her lead as Speaker of the Assembly had a powerful impact on me,” Sumter told, recalling her freshman term. “Representation matters, and I was honored to have Lt. Gov. Oliver be my mentor and educate me on the history of the politics in the state of New Jersey and how to navigate through the Legislature.”

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Oliver, a Newark, N.J., native, often spoke about her eyes opening to the realities of injustice and inequality while in high school. She earned a sociology degree from Lincoln University, an HBCU located in Pennsylvania. She went on to earn a master’s degree in planning and administration from Columbia University in New York.

She received an outpouring of condolences on social media.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams praised Oliver as a “trailblazer” who “knocked down barriers for women of color in government.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Oliver’s passing “a sad day for NJ and for me personally.”

The New Jersey chapter of the NAACP said Oliver was a “fearless public advocate.”

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