I don't want the history of our community to be lost. It is important to keep it alive, and it's important that people know the history of all of Princeton."
Long-time Princeton resident Shirley Satterfield is determined to do all she can to keep Princeton history, especially that of the Witherspoon-Jackson community, real and relevant to today's world.
As a board member of the Historical Society of Princeton, Ms. Satterfield was an enthusiastic advocate of the Society's 1996 exhibit of the Princeton African-American community, and worked hard to see the project become a reality. She currently leads walking tours of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, which was and is home to many of Princeton's African-American residents.
This is truly a labor of love for Ms. Satterfield, who grew up in the area. Born in Philadelphia to Alice May and Claude Wayne Satterfield, she moved to Princeton when she was a baby.
Six generations of her family (of inter-racial heritage) have called Princeton home, dating back to Ms. Satterfield's great-grand-parents Wayman Van Zandt and Martha Boile. Their daughter, Annie Moore May was Ms. Satterfield's grandmother.
"When we came to Princeton, my mom and I lived with Annie May on Old Clay Street," recalls Ms. Satterfield. Her mother and father were separated, but Shirley saw her father, a photographer, regularly, and remembers her grandparents Claude, Sr. and Mariah Furhman Satterfield, with great affection for providing a sense of security and confidence.
"I also credit my father with sparking my interest in seeing the soul of the person beyond the lens," she adds.
Her mother and grandmother were the anchors in Shirley's daily life, however, and were her strongest influences. "My mother nurtured me and worked endlessly to provide for my education. My grandmother was a very religious woman, with a strong will. She taught at the Witherspoon School for Colored Children, and later became a domestic to earn more money. She started the Ladies' Aid Society at Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, taught Christian Endeavor and Sunday School, and raised money to keep the church going. She'd ask families to hold 'Harvest Home' dinners as fund-raisers.
"I remember when I was little, every night before I went to bed, I'd say to Annie May, 'Grandma, am I going to be all right?' She answered, 'If it's the Lord's will.'"
Church was very important in their lives. "It was certainly a big part of my life growing up," says Ms. Satterfield. "Sunday School, church services, then a big dinner (cooked on a coal stove), Christian Endeavor, which was a service held at home, attended by the neighborhood children, then back to church for evening services. On Sunday, for us, there was no play, no movies, no card games, no ironing, and no work."
Shirley attended the Witherspoon School for Colored Children on Quarry Street, and she enjoyed school and her teachers. Her educational life changed in the third grade, when the Princeton Plan to integrate the Borough elementary schools was instituted.
"This was 1948," recalls Ms. Satterfield, " and I went to the Nassau Street School, where I also attended fourth and fifth grades. It worked well with the kids, who all got along and made friends, but the problem with the Plan was that they didn't sensitize the teachers. Some of them tended to segregate the black children, especially in gym class. I also missed my Negro teachers, who were very caring although some of them did transfer to Nassau Street."
In sixth grade, she returned to Witherspoon, which then had become the junior high school.
Moving on to Princeton High School in 1954, Shirley was faced with another racially-oriented issue. Always a good student, she expected to be in the academic program.
"They automatically placed black students in the general program unless otherwise advised," she explains. "My mom had to go to school and specifically enroll me in the academic program."
Despite such incidents of racism, reflecting on her childhood, Ms. Satterfield remembers happy times, a loving family, and stability. "My grandmother, mother, and aunts and uncles took care of me. Everyone in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood was very close. We had grocery and candy stores, a beauty parlor, dry cleaner everything we needed. All the kids played together hide and seek, jump rope (Double Dutch!), sledding on John Street in the winter. There were happy times growing up on Old Clay Street."
The family temporarily moved from Old Clay Street, when the houses were demolished to make way for new public housing, she notes. They moved to Birch Avenue, also in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, and lived for three years in a house that had been moved from Baker Street in the area that is now Palmer Square.
Life was good on Birch Avenue too, reports Ms. Satterfield. "There were so many people who looked after us. I especially respect those women in the community who have touched my life since childhood; strong, caring, and loving women who not only raised their children, grandchildren, and, many, their great-grandchildren, but had time and the will to touch the lives of others Mrs. Florence Twyman, Mrs. Bessie Parago, Mrs. Susie Waxwood, Mrs. Josie Broadway, Mrs. Eva Royster McEwen, Mrs. Kathleen Montgomery Edwards, and Mrs. Mary Tadlock.
"I had a lot of friends," she adds, "and we all visited at each other's homes. We'd go to the movies on Saturday, and my favorite was East of Eden. My favorite movie star was James Dean, and I was very upset when he died."
Shirley liked to read, especially enjoying the Nancy Drew and Sue Barton series for girls, although, as she says, "I began to wonder why none of the people in those stories looked like me."
In high school, her activities continued to center around the church and also the Y. "It was the colored Y," she explains, "and there were a lot of activities there dances, sports, sewing classes, meetings, and trips.
"At Princeton High, we had a canteen and danced in the high school parking lot and on the roof of the Bamberger's Department Store in the Princeton Shopping Center. Once, Frankie Avalon came to the canteen."
After graduating in 1958, without college guidance counseling, Shirley attended Rider College, studying secretarial science. It wasn't what she hoped for, however, and when she learned of the four-year Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., she applied and was accepted.
"A black college for women, it was called 'the Vassar of the South'," she recalls. This was the beginning of a turbulent time in American society, and Shirley found herself in the thick of things. It was the first time she had experienced the segregated South, and it was the start of the Civil Rights Movement, with freedom marches and sit-ins.
"My roommate, junior year, was from Atlanta, and I visited her family. It was the first time I saw 'Colored' and 'White' water fountains," she recalls. "When the sit-ins began in 1961, I was part of it. We marched through the town of Greensboro, and sat at the counter of the Five and Ten. We were heckled and called names by people along side the road as we marched, and some people were taken to jail. Jesse Jackson was on some of the marches with us."
Although caught up in the upheaval around her, Shirley also applied herself to her major in elementary education, and participated in a variety of college activities, including singing in the chapel choir and serving as class officer.
"There were rules at Bennett," she reports. "You wore hats and gloves when you went out, and you were required to attend chapel. Dr. Willa B. Player was President of Bennett, and a very distinguished lady, a true example of what a lady is. I remember once when I was in chapel after having missed a few times, and from the podium, she said: 'Miss Satterfield, you have missed chapel three times.' That's all she said, and I was so embarrassed."
Shirley especially enjoyed her freshman English class with Professor Jarrett, who stimulated her interest in English literature and Greek mythology.
In addition to the formal academics, Bennett required practical hands-on experience. "I did practice teaching in a segregated school in Greensboro, and it was an eye-opener," says Ms. Satterfield. "Some of the students did not even have books. They had to buy them, and many couldn't afford it."
In her senior year, Shirley was chosen "May Queen" of the college, a long-time tradition at the school, honoring a student for academic achievement, appearance, and service.
After graduation, she and two college friends headed to Las Vegas (her first trip West), where they taught at Kit Carson Elementary School. "I enjoyed this. I taught sixth grade and started a choir and a girls' service patrol. I was also a member of the Las Vegas Musical Arts Workshop and sang with the Sweet Adelines.
"In addition, I taught adult education, and I particularly remember an 83-year-old woman, who was so glad to learn to count!"
Ms. Satterfield also reports that she was asked to enter a competition for Miss Nevada, the winner to enter the Miss America contest. Although she had earlier modeled at Yard's Department Store in Trenton and at the Bellows store in Princeton, she wasn't interested in entering a beauty pageant.
While living in Las Vegas, Shirley and her friends drove across country on a visit to Princeton in 1964, an experience she will never forget. "Somehow, we ended up taking the southern route, going through the deep South, including Mississippi (where we could not use public rest rooms and had to resort to the woods!), Arkansas, and Tennessee. We had called ahead to make a hotel reservation in Memphis, which was confirmed. Then, when we arrived, they told us no rooms were available, and directed us to the Lorraine Hotel. Four years later, Dr. Martin Luther King was killed on the balcony of that hotel."
In 1967, still in Las Vegas, Shirley met George Collins, a student from Occidental College in California, and they were married. Shortly after, they moved to Syracuse, N.Y., where he was studying polymer chemistry. A big change from Las Vegas, she points out.
"It was very cold! We lived in student housing that had been a barracks in World War II, and I taught sixth grade in an elementary school."
During their time in Syracuse, she and her husband also traveled abroad, visiting England, Denmark, the Netherlands, and France. Then, after five years, when George Collins received his Ph.D in polymer chemistry from the Forestry School at Syracuse University, the family, which now included daughters Tracy and Dawn, moved to Murray Hill, N.J. Shirley taught sixth grade at the Franklin School in nearby Summit.
"I remember the superintendent said to me the kids I would teach were 'deprived' they were all rich!" says Ms. Satterfield, smiling. "I was the only black person at the school other than the cook and the janitor. I loved the kids, and they really responded."
She helped raise their consciousness by taking them to a play about Harriet Tubman, and after two years, when she decided to transfer to an integrated school, the school officials, students, and parents circulated a petition, urging her to stay on. During her years of teaching in Summit, she was honored as a "Merit" teacher.
In 1977, Ms. Satterfield and her daughters, now 10 and eight, headed to East Windsor, where she taught seventh and eighth grade English at the Melvin H. Kreps School. A year later, she moved to the Rogers Intermediate School in Hightstown, teaching seventh and eighth grade English and history.
During this time, she also earned a Masters Degree in guidance and counseling at Trenton State (now the College of New Jersey).
While teaching, Ms. Satterfield had also been counseling, working with students and parents, and helping to solve problems. This became her focus, as she accepted the position of guidance counselor at Hightstown High School in 1979, where she also established the W.E.B. DuBois Cultural Awareness Forum for students of color, which included enrichment programs and visits to colleges. "We did a lot of programs with cultural activities, had speakers, including the Tuskeegee Airmen, and visited colleges," she reports.
Later, as college advisor, she visited many colleges, especially in New England, always seeking to match the student with the school. "At one point, I drove up to Harvard because our Valedictorian hadn't been accepted, and I wanted to know why."
Such attention and caring reflects Ms. Satterfield's interest in and concern for her students. "I am proud of all my students," she says. "I have written thousands of letters of recommendation, and I tell the kids when they write their application, you have to think of everything that makes you special and what you can bring to the college."
In 1993, Ms. Satterfield returned to her roots, becoming guidance counselor at Princeton High School. Ironically, she notes, "All through my years as a student at Princeton High, I never once saw a guidance counselor."
Before accepting that position, she was also offered the directorship of Princeton Young Achievers, an organization she greatly admires and for which she now serves as a board member.
"It was a hard decision to leave Hightstown," she says. "I had been there 14 years, but when I was at PHS, it was like going home."
At Princeton High, in addition to counseling all the students and visiting colleges, she continued to work with minority programs, including the W.E.B. DuBois Cultural Awareness Forum.
"I also started a group for African-American girls who I hoped could gain a more positive attitude. We had programs, and speakers from colleges visited. Then we expanded the group to all grades, and called it PULSE Pride, Unity, Leadership, Sisterhood, and Esteem. Out of the group, we developed an inspirational choir, and also a stepping group.
"In addition, the girls in PULSE helped develop a website of the African-American community of Princeton. It was one of the most positive groups at PHS. We went to forums at other high schools, and Governor Christy Whitman recognized our group as one of the best in the state.
"Also," continues Ms. Satterfield, "women in different areas of Princeton came to partner with the girls. Emily Mann helped those interested in acting Cecilia Hodges talked to girls interested in literature, and the then Mayor of Princeton Township, Michele Tuck-Ponder helped those interested in government."
Ms. Satterfield's effort to help the students in so many ways impressed her colleagues at Princeton High. As Marcia Cooper, Ms. Satterfield's secretary in the guidance department, points out, "Shirley was a wonderful counselor, and worked hard to make sure that her 'children' succeeded. As colleagues, we valued her good cheer and thoughtfulness.
"And Shirley is so amazing because she works so hard in so many areas for the students, the town, her church, and her family. She has so much energy and is involved in so many things."
This involvement continued after Ms. Satterfield retired from PHS in 2000, and she has been in the forefront of many of the issues involving the community and her church. Her work with the Historical Society is a case in point.
"When I was asked to join the Historical Society, I was interested in the history of Princeton, of my family, of my church, and of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood," she explains. "There really had not been a focus on the ethnic part of Princeton, but the late director, Gail Stern, recognized the great diversity of Princeton. There was an Italian-American exhibit at the Historical Society, and then the African-American exhibit. I worked on this with members of the community, Princeton University, and Gail Stern. We all worked together researching, and interviewing people in the African-American community."
Ms. Satterfield especially admired one of her colleagues who contributed his time, effort, and knowledge to the project: long time Princetonian, the late Albert Hinds. "I called him my 'History Partner'," she says. "Mr. Hinds has given more to this town than any noted person in Princeton. He was an ordinary man who served and lived his 104 years with dignity and pride. I knew Mr. Hinds since I was a child; he was a friend, mentor, historian, teacher, and humanitarian. Mr. Hinds was Princeton!"
Ms. Satterfield was also pleased that Paul Robeson's son and his wife attended the opening of the exhibit, and later, in 1998, a week commemorating Robeson's 100th birthday, was celebrated. The famous singer, actor, scholar, and activist had been born in Princeton, and programs were held at Richardson Hall, the Arts Council, and Witherspoon Street Church.
Ms. Satterfield has her own history with Paul Robeson. At the time of his birthday, several documentaries were planned, and she participated in a number of them. She remembers when she was a little girl, and Robeson visited her home. "I was very young at the time and didn't know he was famous," she recalls.
During the preparation for a PBS documentary, Ms. Satterfield took the producers to Witherspoon Street Church, where Robeson's father had served as minister. "The church was built in 1837," she notes, "and the pews were original. Later, a historian said they were very valuable. I had six restored, and put four in the Fellowship Hall of the church and one in the guidance department of the high school. The one my grandmother always sat in is in my home, and another is now in the Smithsonian."
Ms. Satterfield's life was touched by another famous Princetonian. "My mom worked at the Institute for Advanced Study, and Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor, authors of Einstein, Race, and Racism, interviewed her. She and I are both mentioned in the book. Einstein used to take me for walks around the Institute when I was a little girl. I didn't know he was famous either, just that he was nice."
Her involvement in Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church continues to be very important to Ms. Satterfield, and she is currently writing a history of the church. The Reverend M. Muriel Burrows is especially appreciative of Ms. Satterfield's contribution to the life of the church.
"Someone once said that there are two kinds of people in the church: pillars and caterpillars. Pillars hold up the church, and caterpillars crawl in and out. Shirley Satterfield is definitely a pillar. She sings in the Chancel choir, plays in the Chime and Handbell choirs, directs the Junior Usher Ministry, serves on the Deacon Board, and is a loving daughter, mother and grandmother.
"Shirley's dedication to education for the children of the community is very apparent. It is almost impossible to go anywhere with Shirley without some former student or parent of a former student greeting her by name and giving her an update on their lives and thanking her for her advice, her dedication, or her patience for going the extra mile. And the amazing thing is that Shirley remembers them all! I often tell her that she failed Retirement 101 the woman is a dynamo!"
During the recent celebration marking 250 years of Presbyterian presence in Princeton, Witherspoon Street Church and Nassau Presbyterian Church joined together as "Partners in Faith" to prepare for the year-long commemoration, which opened and closed with memorable services in McCarter Theatre. Ms. Satterfield worked enthusiastically on the project, and also served as a member of the verse speaking choir.
In addition to her work in the church and with the Historical Society, she is on the boards of the Princeton Adult School, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Princeton Future. She also continues to help out in the PHS guidance department when needed.
Ms. Satterfield's influence also extends beyond these group endeavors. Caring, concerned, and committed, she is always on hand to help out individuals, as her friend Edith Palmer confirms.
"Shirley is an extraordinary person. As a relative newcomer to Princeton, I was welcomed by Shirley into her family. She eased my transition into a new community, and introduced me to the Princeton community as a whole. She took me under her wing. I cannot imagine what it would have been like if I had not met Shirley. My living experience has been enriched through knowing her, and I am proud to be her friend."
When time permits, Ms. Satterfield enjoys her hobbies of antiquing, scrapbooking, and listening to music especially doo wop, Motown, and classical. She spent several summers in Vermont, "traveling all along Route 7 antiquing," and she looks forward to getting up to New England again.
She is enormously proud of her daughters and sees them often. "Tracy, the oldest, graduated from PHS and Swarthmore College, later receiving a Masters Degree in communications from Syracuse University. She is now the College Advisor at Friends Select School in Philadelphia. She and her husband, Charles Matthews have a daughter, Ayanna, who is eight.
"My daughter Dawn graduated from Stuart and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was a member of the Army ROTC, and worked for an investment company in New York. She went on to the UCLA School of Law, and now practices law in California."
When Ms. Satterfield reflects on the path her life has taken, she is struck by the changes that have occurred in so many areas, and yet by much that is familiar and friendly. "You know, when I left Princeton for Las Vegas, I said I'd never come back. But never say never! My home church is here, and my friends and family are here. I like the fact that there is still regard for history here. I like the diversity of the town, and I like people to respect each other and that diversity.
"I also like the homeliness of Princeton, especially because I am connected to how it was, the closeness that existed, and all the people I have known. And I have enjoyed the kids so much throughout my career the activities I shared with them, going on trips with them, witnessing their growth, and then later seeing them as mothers and fathers with their own children."
She can still be surprised, too, at the impact she has had even many years later, as she happily reports. "After the PBS documentary on Paul Robeson was shown, a former student from Las Vegas contacted me. She had seen it, remembered me, and then she and her husband came to see me in Princeton.
"As I look back, my mission in Princeton has been to promote the educational advancement of and instill a sense of purpose, self worth, and respect in the youth of our town, to preserve the rich history of my church and community, and to remember and uplift those in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood who came before us, who cleared the path for us to grow, advance and prosper."
By all accounts, Ms. Satterfield has succeeded.
Return to Top | Go to New To Us