August 14, 2019

W-J Safe Streets Program Culminates With History, Athletics

MARKING HISTORY: This Heritage Tour plaque at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church was one of four dedicated on Saturday at historic black churches in the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic District of Princeton. (Photo by Wendy Greenberg)

By Wendy Greenberg

A week of activities sponsored by the Joint Effort Princeton Witherspoon-Jackson Safe Streets Program was more than a Witherspoon-Jackson (W-J) neighborhood celebration. “If we lift up Witherspoon-Jackson, we lift up Princeton,” said John Bailey, program coordinator. “If we lift up the community, we make it a better place to live, work, play, and to do business.”

Bailey, who stressed that this was a community effort, noted that what started more than 10 years ago with a picnic and small program has evolved to include educational, arts, and historical events including, last Saturday, the dedication of Heritage Tour plaques at four historic black churches in the W-J Historic District.

The walking tour to commemorate the dedication of the plaques included ceremonies at the Morning Star Church of God in Christ, established in 1923, 431 Birch Avenue; Mt. Pisgah AME Methodist Church, established in 1832, 170 Witherspoon Street; Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, established in 1836 as the First Presbyterian Church of Colour, 112 Witherspoon Street; and First Baptist Church of Princeton, established in 1885 as Bright Hope Baptist Church, 30 Green Street. At each church congregants and community members heard a brief congregation history from a church representative, and applauded the unveiling of a new Heritage Tour plaque.

At Witherspoon, the Rev. Lukata A. Mjumbe said it was appropriate that the new plaque was next to one honoring Elizabeth “Betsey” Stockton, born a slave, who started a Sabbath school at Witherspoon. He also noted that activist, scholar, athlete, and singer Paul Robeson grew up at the church where his father, the Rev. William Robeson, was pastor. “The name Witherspoon Street connects us to the community,” he said. “It connects us to all who lived along this street.”

Shirley Satterfield, president of the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical & Cultural Society, and a member of the Joint Effort Safe Streets Host Committee, arranged the tour and acted as a guide. Satterfield said that the churches are the first of 29 designated W-J Historic District sites to get plaques, and explained that the plaque program serves to “research,
preserve, and share.” Other sites destined to get plaques in the future include the former Grigg’s store and the current Agricola building, which was formerly a newspaper office, among other sites.

Each plaque shows a photograph of the church (some from Satterfield’s family archives), some church history, and the names of the families who donated the plaques.

An August 3 community tribute to Laura Mitnaul Wooten, hosted by the Wooten family at the Arts Council of Princeton Paul Robeson Center, launched the week-long program. Wooten was the longest-serving election poll worker in the U.S. –  serving for 79 consecutive years. Other activities included a critical issues discussion on the future of Princeton which featured a perspective on the future of Princeton by Princeton Future Chairperson and Princeton Design Guild architect Kevin Wilkes, followed by a response panel discussion.

Also, Mjumbe delivered the second annual Jim Floyd Memorial Community Lecture at the Arts Council of Princeton, speaking on “Social Justice in the Current Landscape.” The lecture was preceded by a community reception and the Cynthia “Chip” Fisher Memorial Art Exhibit, with paintings by Aaron Fisher and Tracey J. Hill and photo collages by Romus Broadway. The exhibit runs through September 5 at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts.

The Jim Floyd Memorial Lifetime Achievement Awards, the Mildred Trotman Community Service Awards, and the Join Effort Book Scholarships were presented during the week. The Jim Floyd Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Frances Broadway Craig, and to Fisher, posthumously. John Broadway, Ida Belle Dixon, Cecelia B. Hodges, Wooten (posthumously), Mamie Oldham, Bob and Barbara Hillier (Town Topics shareholders), and Minnie and Eric Craig received the 2019 Paul Robeson Spirit Awards. Leighton Newlin and Lance Liverman were honored as the 2019 Witherspoon-Jackson Citizens of the Year.

The events also included a reception for the community and sponsors held at Studio Hillier, a gospel festival, and the Pete Young Memorial Games, a series of basketball games for youths and young adults. 

Bailey said the wide-ranging program was a Renaissance approach that included athletics, arts, and history, and that it was reminiscent of Robeson himself, who was “a Renaissance man,” he said. “But he is but one of the many personalities important to this town.”

The program was started by Bailey and Satterfield to celebrate the history of the neighborhood and the African Americans who helped build Princeton and call it home.