Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 18
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
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It's Hinds Plaza Now as Borough Hall Votes to Honor Beloved Princeton Figure

Matthew Hersh

A year and a month would amount to no more than a blip in the 104 years of Albert E. Hinds, but that's how long it took to find a name for the public square next to the Princeton Public Library.

Last Tuesday, Princeton Borough Council decided to honor Mr. Hinds, who died 13 months ago, by naming the plaza after him. In the course of his long life, Mr. Hinds had come to embody not only the African American experience in Princeton, but 20th century Princeton as well.

Since his death, "there have been calls, letters to the editor, and people letting us know that they are in favor of naming the square after Mr. Hinds," said Shirley Satterfield, a prime mover in the campaign that ultimately led to the Borough acknowledging the "Albert E. Hinds Community Plaza."

But it wasn't easy.

In the past months, Borough Council members indicated that Borough Hall did not have the mechanics in place to name the space: a fact that became increasingly clear as the mounting community effort to name Hinds Plaza took some Council members to an uncomfortable political place where they had to explain why the square should not be named, despite Mr. Hinds's popularity.

"Al Hinds is very much worthy of public recognition," said Councilman Roger Martindell, who abstained from the final vote, adding that the Borough did not "have a lot of history on how to name things."

Mr. Martindell also worried about certain design implications that would come with the naming. "Ten years from now, if the name has nothing physically attached to it, then it won't be strong in our memory."

Councilwoman Barbara Trelstad agreed: "I'm very concerned that we are going to name it and forget about it unless we develop some kind of program associated with it."

As a result, the neighborhood group that brought the campaign to the Borough said that there would be programming, probably on a yearly basis, associated with Mr. Hinds.

Some members of Council, while acknowledging the community's admiration of Mr. Hinds's, worried that naming the plaza would set an ambiguous precedent when it came to honoring other notable residents. "I still feel that there ought to be some way that we could continue to honor other people" at the plaza, said Council President Peggy Karcher, but then added, "we are putting a name on the plaza that is very deserving."

Councilman Andrew Koontz, once a strong proponent of naming the space after Albert Einstein, quipped that he had since changed his mind "just a little — just a different Albert."

Councilwoman Wendy Benchley, who had long supported the plaza's naming after Mr. Hinds, said that while she agreed with Mr. Martindell's points on creating a mechanism for naming public spaces through a smaller committee, "the time has come to make a decision and name the plaza. Mr. Hinds was an extraordinary man."

Albert Hinds, in life and death, has been noted for his longevity and his many roles, including a long-term tenure on the Borough Zoning Board of Adjustment, and, what reads like a storybook footnote, he is known to have been part of the construction crew that "paved Nassau Street," Ms. Satterfield said.

Borough resident Charles St. John, who served with Mr. Hinds on the zoning board, described Mr. Hinds as "the model citizen.

"By naming the square after Mr. Hinds, we preserve the idea that our citizens should emulate Albert — we'd all be better for it."

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