March 18, 2015

Princeton’s African American Community Should Be Remembered Every Month 

To the Editor:

I was pleased to see the African American community of Princeton recognized for Black History Month, even though this community has been a vital part of Princeton since the late 17th century and should be remembered every month of the year.

The Colored (as we were called) community were slaves who worked on large farms and in homes as domestic and agricultural servants. They were slaves to many early presidents and trustees of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University). In later years families came to Princeton to find employment and to build a vibrant community.

Because Princeton was a Jim Crow town, the African American population was not welcomed in many stores or restaurants or social establishments along Nassau Street, so there were many businesses and establishments in the area from Jackson Street (Paul Robeson Place) to Birch Avenue. African Americans also owned businesses on Nassau, Spring, and Hulfish Streets.

As a result of living in a segregated town there was an extremely active Colored business community — florists, barber shops, beauty parlors, candy stores, restaurants, clothing stores, taxi services as well as craftsmen, educators, lawyers, and physicians. Our families also served as laborers and domestics for many Princeton families, in private clubs that we could not patronize, and as cooks at the Princeton University eating clubs.

In 1948 the two schools in the Borough of Princeton, Nassau Street School and Witherspoon School for Colored Children were integrated — Nassau Street School became the elementary school and Witherspoon School became the junior high school for all students in the Borough. In the late 1960s the sixth through eighth grade students walked with their teachers from Witherspoon School, located on Quarry Street, to the John Witherspoon Middle School.

We attended four churches, had our educational, recreational, social, and athletic events at the Colored YM/YWCA and had business and social meetings and events at the three fraternal organizations. Our neighbors were Italian families who also served the residents of Princeton and contributed as laborers craftsmen, stonecutters, entrepreneurs, and store owners.

Now that the community from Paul Robeson Place to Birch Avenue has been, and continues to be, threatened by developers, the once close knit and thriving community will be extinct. Those of us who care about this community need to convey to others that we are not a community to be pitied for the injustices that our families endured for centuries, but to be supported for wanting to preserve a legacy of a proud and thriving community to whom Princeton is indebted.

ShirLEy A. Satterfield

Quarry Street