March 21, 2018

Joint Effort Safe Streets March Program Honors Witherspoon-Jackson Community

HONORING THE HISTORY: Shirley Satterfield (at podium), president of the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society, unveiled the first four Heritage Tour Plaques and recognized the Society’s board of trustees (surrounding her) at a reception Friday afternoon at Studio Hillier on Witherspoon Street. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

By Donald Gilpin

The Joint Effort Safe Streets Program, which presents an array of Witherspoon-Jackson Community (W-J) activities each August, added a spring celebration this year with three memorable events taking place last week.

Last Thursday evening at the First Baptist Church of Princeton, a “Princeton Salute for Lance Liverman” recognized and thanked “one of Princeton’s most beloved town leaders,” according to Safe Streets organizer John Bailey. Liverman, who will be retiring from town Council at the end of this year, has given almost 30 years of public service to the Princeton community.

On Friday evening Hillier Studios on Witherspoon Street was the setting for a community reception and historic program sponsored by the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society and attended by about 100 community members and supporters. Designs were unveiled for the first four of 26 W-J Community Heritage Trail Plaques.

W-J Historical Society President Shirley Satterfield presented designs for the first four W-J Community Heritage Trail Plaques recognizing Princeton’s historic black churches: Mt. Pisgah A.M.E., founded in 1832; Witherspoon Street Presbyterian, founded in 1840; First Baptist, founded in 1885; and Morning Star Church of God in Christ, founded in 1941.

The final event, held on Saturday morning, was a Joint Effort Safe Streets Critical Issues Update and a Princeton Town Council Candidates Forum at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.

“This is a dream come true,” said Satterfield in unveiling the designs for the church plaques. “It all started in 1990 when I joined the Historical Society of Princeton and all they were talking about was white Princeton.” Satterfield was determined to win recognition for the history of Princeton beyond Wiggins Street.

“I said if you go from Wiggins to Birch Avenue, you’ll see how Princeton became Princeton,” she said. “In 1997 I started my Heritage Tour so that people would remember. All my relatives, all my ancestors, all those who helped us along — I want to thank them, and I want to thank you all so much.”

Bob Hillier, host of the reception and treasurer of W-J Historical and Cultural Society and a Town Topics shareholder, later announced that he had promised Satterfield that the original Witherspoon Street School for Colored Children building would be restored and that a plaque donated by Hillier and his wife Barbara would be installed in honor of Satterfield.

Designed by Studio Hillier with historical commentary written by Satterfield, the 26 plaques will be placed at significant sites around town. The four church plaques were all sponsored by members of the W-J community, including John and Florence Broadway, Lance Liverman, and Floyd Phox (First Baptist); Earl Buggs, Shirley Satterfield, and Mildred Trotman (Witherspoon Street Presbyterian); John Bailey, Leighton Newlin, and Hazel Rhodes (Mt. Pisgah); and Eric and Minnie Craig and Mamie Lee Oldham (Morning Star).

Other plaque donors include The C. Raymond Davis Company, Mark Freda, Daniel A. Harris and Jane Buttars, J. Robert and Barbara Hillier, Rev. David McAlpin, and Patricia M. McCarthy. Eighteen plaques are yet to be dedicated.

“To me the most fascinating aspect of the history of this community is that it was a strictly segregated community that was separated, self-sufficient, and sustainable with its own set of merchants, services, and teachers who were part of the very community whose kids they were teaching,” Hillier said. “This resulted in the amazing success of many of the graduates of this community as they left Princeton and found their way in a bigger world.”

He went on to discuss the importance of the W-J Heritage Tour. “The Heritage Tour has been established to preserve the proud history of this unique community in the center of Princeton,” he noted, “so that ‘progress’ does not eliminate its part in the overall growth of the specialness of this remarkable town of Princeton.”

Bailey described the fundraising effort, $1,500 for each plaque, as “a labor of love.” “The folks who stepped up love their community, love their churches, and hopefully love Shirley’s Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society and the Heritage Tour. I’m a very small cog in the ancestral chain of the folks who will continue to make our community not only a wonderful place to work and live, but to do business, to play, and to continue to love.”

The theme of this year’s Joint Effort Safe Streets events in August, Bailey revealed, will be “The Future.”