Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton

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ON HIS OWN: "I was always very self-reliant. This has been very important to me. I've really been on my own since I was 12 years old. I lived at home, but earned my own money. My parents did not buy so much as a handkerchief for me since I was 12." Centenarian Albert Hinds has vivid memories of his early days in Princeton.

Princeton Resident Albert Hinds Has Been a Witness to History

Theodore Roosevelt was President of the U.S. Woodrow Wilson was President of Princeton University. Nassau Street was a dirt road; most people traveled in horse-drawn carriages; Henry Ford's Model-T had not yet taken over the roads.

Silent movies were just beginning to attract an audience; there were no powered airplanes, household radios, television sets, fax machines, cell phones, computers, VCRs or DVDs.

Penicillin had not yet been discovered, nor was the polio vaccine available. Princeton Hospital had not yet been built, let alone become a University Medical Center.

It was 1902, the year of Albert Hinds' birth in Princeton, N.J.

"I was born at home, in our house on the corner of Witherspoon and Quarry Streets," says Mr. Hinds. "Everyone was born at home then. This was before Princeton Hospital was built. Its current location was then a dairy farm.

"All my beginnings were one block from Witherspoon Street," he adds. "I went to school there, and my church was Mount Pisgah at Maclean and Quarry Streets. It's the oldest black church in Princeton, and it is still my church."

British Royalty

Son of Arthur and Sophia Hinds, Albert Edward Hinds was named for royalty.

"My father was originally from British Guyana, and I was named both for British and Belgian royalty," he explains.

The oldest child in the family, he was brother to four girls and three boys, and he remembers a happy childhood filled with good times and lots of hard work.

"I just enjoyed myself and took things in stride," he recalls. "I first attended the Witherspoon Elementary School, but then in 1910, the Quarry Street School was built, and I went there. Both schools were segregated. I liked school, but I mostly enjoyed being outdoors. I did especially like one teacher in elementary school, Esther Cousins. I liked the way she handled things. I remember the way she taught geography. She helped us to learn in interesting ways.

"She was from North Carolina, and had never seen snow," continues Mr. Hinds. "During one snowstorm, she got a shoe box and packed it with snow to send to North Carolina. I doubt that it ever made it!"

Later, he says, civil engineering appealed to him. "But then I found out you needed a lot of math, and that changed my mind."

Albert was also very involved in numerous weekend and after school jobs. His great passion was horses, and for a time, it took precedence over school.

"In seventh or eighth grade, horses interrupted my education," he reports. "Brown Brothers had a livery stable where the Post Office is today. There were horses galore! I was so interested in the horses that I'd miss school to go to the livery stable.

"Then, I was hired to drive a hack – remember, these were horse-drawn carriages in those days. I was just a young kid, and I'd drive to Princeton Junction at midnight to pick up passengers on the 'Owl' train. I had two teams of horses that I groomed and took care of. I also had a chance to ride horses.

"Man 'O War"

"Nassau Street was a dirt road then – I later helped to pave it around 1919. You'd see people riding horseback down the street, and they would race horse-drawn sleighs there in winter. There was also a race track in Princeton, at the end of Leigh Avenue, across Route 206."

Sports, especially football, were another of Albert's interests, and he was a star end on the Princeton High School football team. Dubbed "Man 'O War" (for the famous race horse) by his teammates, he was quick and had good hands. At five feet four inches, he made up for lack of height by his agility and speed.

In winter, he and his friends had fun with their sleds on Quarry Street, and they also liked to see the silent movies at nearby theaters. "Movies were segregated then, and we sat up in the balcony," he recalls.

Albert's parents were busy working and providing for the family. His father was a waiter at the Princeton University eating clubs on Prospect Street, and his mother worked as a domestic for a Princeton family, as well as caring for her own children.

In addition to his job at the livery stable, Albert delivered newspapers. "During World War I, I delivered papers, and I kept up with what was going on in the war. Also, here's a list of some of the other jobs I've had. Work never kills you!

"I delivered milk, worked in a butcher shop, a stationery store, laid bricks, and took care of the furnace at the library, which was then at Bainbridge House (now headquarters of the Historical Society of Princeton).

Horses' Shoes

"I also had a shoe-shine box that I made from a box which held nails for horses' shoes. I got it from the stable. I still have it today, and it's nearly 90 years old."

During summers, when he was in high school, Albert worked at Swift & Company Meat Packing in Jersey City, in the tobacco fields in Windsor, Conn., and at the Raritan Arsenal in New Brunswick, uncapping cannons.

"We weren't allowed to bring in matches," he recalls, "and when we first went to work, they gave us a notice: 'In the event of an accident, where do you want your body sent?'"

After graduation from high school in 1923, Albert went south to New Orleans. At the suggestion of his friend, William Mitchell, he took a job with the YMCA, and also attended Straight College.

"I admired William Mitchell, who was four years my senior. He was a Princetonian, and he and Paul Robeson were very good friends. He had worked with the YMCA in New York and in New Orleans, and asked me to go to New Orleans. I was interested in YMCA work."

Mr. Hinds immediately liked New Orleans. "It was a very cosmopolitan city, even in 1924, and it was more flexible about race than any other southern city," he recalls. "I was there 10 years, and I would have stayed longer if the economic conditions had been better."

A Long Time

While he was there, he was instrumental in bringing together two other famous Princetonians: Howard and Susie Waxwood.

"Howard and I grew up together in Princeton," says Mr. Hinds. "He was working at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and I was in New Orleans. He came down and got a job at Straight College. I had met Susie, then Susie Brown, and introduced them. They were married and lived in Princeton a long time. Susie is now back in Princeton. I am five months older than she!"

After leaving New Orleans, Mr. Hinds attended Talladega University in Alabama, majoring in educational recreation, and taking a variety of courses, including sociology. He graduated in 1934, and spent one year working in Atlanta before returning to New Jersey.

He was then hired by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) to oversee the playgrounds in Hightstown. "Then I was transferred to the YMCA in Princeton, where I enjoyed teaching and coaching all different sports programs. Later I was sent to Trenton, where I directed the Charles Young USO program."

During World War II, Mr. Hinds married Heidee Ethel Galbraith, and they had a daughter, Heidee Myrna, who now lives in Atlanta. Mrs. Hinds died shortly after the birth of their daughter, and Mr. Hinds subsequently married again. His wives, Esther and Inez, are both deceased.

During the war, he also worked at the Eastern Aircraft plant, assembling wing parts. After the war, he was an exterminator with the State of New Jersey, working at the State Hospital for 17 years, until he retired in 1970.

Boyhood Friend

In fact, that was not his first venture in the exterminating business. Earlier, he and his partner, Charles Sperling were called upon to help dispatch a hoard of carpenter ants from lumber used in the construction of Palmer Square.

"On the west side of Palmer Square, the lumber was green and infested with carpenter ants," recalls Mr. Hinds, adding, "Charles Sperling was my boyhood friend, and we were partners in this business. But it wasn't until years later, I learned about his remarkable career. He spoke eight languages, went on to become a lawyer, traveled all over, advised people in government, and became a very important person. This was my boyhood friend from Princeton."

It was his work in recreation that has meant the most to Mr. Hinds. "In all my different jobs in recreation work, I enjoyed the young people and the coaching," he says. "I think I played an important role in the lives of several people who I coached or taught."

One of those was Bayard Jordan, now retired as instructor at the Community Park tennis courts. "Bayard was one of my kids," remembers Mr. Hinds, "and I am happy he went on to have such a successful career. Another of my boys became a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen in World War II."

Mr. Hinds has been an active member of the Princeton community, serving on the Borough Zoning Board for many years, participating in a variety of issues that have affected the John-Witherspoon neighborhood and the community at large.

"I was interested in the Zoning Board, and we discussed important matters," he reports. "I served under three mayors, and it was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it."

Patient Listener

Long-time Princeton resident James Floyd, former Mayor of Princeton Township, remembers serving on the Zoning Board, and was especially aware of Mr. Hinds' patience and his willingness to work hard.

"I really learned a lot about people and patience when I served with Al. He was a quiet mentor to me. He had the patience of listening. He would always hear you out, then speak from his own experience, and incorporate that into what was going on.

"At times, I am certain Al knew he had some idea of at least a partial solution to a problem, but he never imposed it. He reserved opinion until he heard others' points of view. Then, when he did speak, he did so with authority.

"If one phrase can sum him up, I think it's 'Nothing will work unless you do.' That is Al's position. He is no stranger to hard work, and he has made a contribution to the entire Princeton community.

"Also," continues Mr. Floyd, "one of the things I have so much regard for is his spiritual dedication to his church and to the people around him. A couple of years ago, I was in the hospital at the same time Al's wife was there. At one point, he took time to come and see me, even though his wife was gravely ill. That meant so much to me, and it epitomizes his concern for others."

Despite some health considerations –"The wear and tear of 100-plus years. I have outlived my warranty!" – Mr. Hinds remains active. He attributes his longevity to family genetics. "My mother lived to be 100; her sister was 100; a cousin, 103; and my grandfather, 97."

Every Sunday

Reflecting on having outlived so many old friends, family, and contemporaries, he notes that one can be lonely. "No one remembers what I remember," he points out.

Nevertheless, he is involved with current friends and neighbors and members of his church. He attends services every Sunday at Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he has served as usher, trustee, and also helped pump the pipe organ.

The Reverend Vernard Leak, minister of the church, has known Mr. Hinds for more than 12 years, and appreciates the contributions of this extraordinary parishioner.

"Mr. Hinds is alert, direct, spiritually concerned and socially caring. It is a blessing he has lived these years, and that he is a true example of an African-American man."

Mr. Hinds is also involved in the Suzanne Patterson Senior Citizen Center, where he plays bridge every Tuesday. An accomplished player, he recently won the center's tournament.

"I've played for a long time, since I was 15 or 16, even before it was bridge. I played whist, which was a forerunner of bridge. Bridge is a challenging game. It makes you think, and it makes you honest. I also like to play Kings in the Corner, another card game, something like Solitaire. That's mostly luck, though."

Right Person

Sports continues to be a favorite activity, albeit watching rather than participating. Mr. Hinds enjoys catching a game on TV, especially football, but also baseball, and tennis.

One of his favorite sports figures is Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in the Major Leagues. "I always admired him," says Mr. Hinds. "And Branch Rickey, who hired him, was pretty good too. He got the right person"

Mr. Hinds' life-time has spanned the administrations of 18 American Presidents, from Theodore Roosevelt to George Bush. He especially admires Jimmy Carter. "I thought he was down-to-earth, and also a good humanitarian, which he has continued to be even after his Presidency."

Mr. Hinds' emphasis on self-reliance continues to be a strong part of his character. Living alone, he is reluctant to ask for help from others, although he is visited by high school students, who assist with chores. "The high school youngsters want to come and give me a hand, and ask what they can do, but I really can't ask for help. It's not my way.

"There was a young lady, who was at Princeton University for four years," he adds, "and she has been a very good friend. She is now in Philadelphia, but she stays in touch."

Having lived in Princeton for most of his life, Mr. Hinds is in a unique position to point out its particular qualities, which he looks at objectively.

Subtle Racism

"Princeton is my home, and I like it, but it's not a place for poor people. It never has been, and there is still subtle racism. A lot of black people were displaced when Palmer Square was built in the 1930s," he points out. "One of the good things Mr. Palmer did, though, was to move houses from Baker Street, which was demolished, to Birch Avenue. He also bought land and built some new houses for the people who were displaced. Unfortunately, black people continue to be displaced, as development expands and neighborhoods change."

With his special knowledge of "Princeton Past," Mr. Hinds was very helpful to the Historical Society of Princeton when "A Community Remembers: Princeton's African-American Community" was the Society's featured exhibit in 1996.

Director Gail Stern is grateful to him for his contribution. "Albert is a wonderful person. He's got a far-reaching memory and a good first-hand knowledge of Princeton's history. He helped us tremendously with the exhibition we did on the history of Princeton's African-American community.

"He has also given walking tours and slide lectures with Shirley Satterfield on the history of the John-Witherspoon community. He is a great resource – a living legacy. I think the world of him."

Mr. Hinds has many admirers, indeed – in Princeton and beyond. On the occasion of his 100th birthday, he received numerous citations and acknowledgments of friendship and respect, including a Senate Resolution from the State of New Jersey, a plaque from the Zoning Board, a Legacy of Service award from Princeton University Community House, a citation from former Governor Christie Whitman, and a Princeton High School Athletic Hall of Fame Plaque. A number of these are framed and displayed in his home.

From the John-Witherspoon neighbors is a citation reading: "Albert Hinds – A wonderful and dedicated citizen, whose leadership, sound judgement, and caring have made a significant difference in the lives of his neighbors and fellow citizens in the community."

Adds Jim Floyd: "At the commemoration of Al's 100th birthday, I remember saying, 'Honor has been the reward for what you gave.' This man is just remarkable."

Many cards, marking Mr. Hinds' recent April 14th birthday, figure prominently in a display on the piano in his living room, a reminder that yet another milestone has occurred in his extraordinary life. May the cards keep coming!


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