Noelle Lorraine Williams
Newark artist and historian Noelle Lorraine Williams, uses newspapers and archival research to center Newark's 19th-century Black community, highlighting courageous leaders, activists and artists and connects them with the women of Newark's 20th century most pivotal moments.
Black women in America have worked tirelessly for centuries to wrestle control of their bodies
and their lives away from others.
These three Newark women–Sara O’Fake Evans, Ellen King, and Hannah Mandeville–were as
respected in Newark’s Black community as the Ballantines were in theirs. They lived only blocks
away from The Ballantine House. Descendants of community activists, freedom seekers, and
abolitionists, they were artists, teachers, businesswomen, and homeowners.
These leaders have been pushed out of historical narratives—until now. They changed their
lives in the face of misogyny, racism, and worker discrimination, and their stories illuminate our
centuries-long struggle. Even today, Black women continue to fight and thrive in Newark.
I am grateful to the Newark Museum of Art for this opportunity to continue this conversation on the legacy of Newark's Black women's activism that I explored in my Zocalo 2020 article The Incredible Legacy of Newark's Black Women Activists and with this project Black Power! 19th Century.
Looking forward and thank you for sharing,
Noelle Lorraine Williams
Newark, NJ, 2023
Video Still: Stay: The Monumental Stories of Newark’s Black Women
In this video Newark artist and historian Noelle Lorraine Williams, centers Newark's 19th-century Black community, highlighting courageous leaders, activists, and artists and connecting them with the women of Newark's 20th-century most transformative activist moments. This video is a part of the installation "Stay: The Black Women of 19th-Century Newark" which is on view at The Ballantine House at The Newark Museum of Art in Newark, NJ. V
Ellen King (1839–1936) spent her life in the world of Black liberation that her parents built. She remembered, as a little girl, the free and enslaved freedom seekers, that would take refuge in her home. This would compel her to teach and serve the Black community, here and in the South.
Sara O’Fake Evans (1871–1906) was the granddaughter of Peter and Sara O’Fake, Black freedom activists from a nationally recognized musical family. She was a member of one of the richest Black families in Newark. They owned several houses near The Ballantine House. Evans helped run the properties and gave piano lessons.
Formerly enslaved in Jersey City, Hannah Mandeville (1811–1902) moved to Newark. She married, started a family, and became a women’s leader in Newark’s Plane Street Colored Church. Despite the respect from the entire community, as an older woman, she was unjustly forced out of the home she owned into the street with her belongings.
Louise Epperson helped form the Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal which fought the eviction of thousands of homeowners and renters from Newark's Central Ward so that a hospital could be built.
During this period she attended Clinton Avenue Presbyterian Church. This church was descended from Newark's Underground Railroad affiliated church Plane Street Colored Church.
Sakia Gunn was a 15-year-old Black, lesbian, high school student who was murdered by Richard McCullough for standing up to his violence against her and her friends.
Sakia played on the basketball and had returned from hanging out in New York's Greenwich Village which was then a place where LGBT folks to be free,
Her murder incited many to take a stance again LGBT violence and misogny by vowing to create a safe space for LGBTQI youth.
Eloise Spellman was the widowed mother of 11 children when she was murdered by National Guardsman or Police after looking out the window during the Newark rebellion.
Despite the portrayal of Blacks in Newark as "violent" during the Newark rebellion and riot - it was mainly Blacks who were murdered by law enforcement. In many ways, Eloise Spellman became a symbol of the folks that were abused or murdered during this period.