December 9, 2015

Current and Former African-American Officials Discuss Experiences at Library Panel Discussion


TELLING THEIR STORIES: Taking part in a panel discussion at Princeton Public Library as part of The Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Stories Project are, from left: Mildred Trotman and Michele Tuck-Ponder, seated; and Joseph Moore, Yina Moore, and moderator Marc Dashield, standing behind them. Not pictured: Lance Liverman.

For Mildred Trotman, it was an unpleasant experience with Princeton’s school system that made her think about getting into politics. For Lance Liverman, it was an awareness of some discontent among his fellow citizens that propelled him into public service.

Ms. Trotman served two terms as mayor of Princeton Borough after seven terms on the former Borough Council. Mr. Liverman was a member of the former Township Committee before being elected to the consolidated Princeton Council, where he is currently serving a second term. Along with former Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore and former Borough Councilman Joseph Moore, they will relate their experiences as African-American leaders in Princeton in a panel discussion Wednesday, December 9, moderated by Princeton’s administrator Marc Dashield.

“The Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Stories Project,” which begins at 7 p.m. in the library’s Community Room, is the first of two programs devoted to the project, which is co-sponsored by the library and the Arts Council of Princeton, presented with support by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The next event is February 21, titled “Listen, Lord: The Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church’s 175 Years in the Fight for Freedom,” which will feature readings and music tracing the fight for freedom from the founding of the church, through the civil rights movement, to the present.

The project started with the Arts Council and was officially launched last February. There is support from the New Jersey Council on the Humanities as well as the NEH, and the Paul Robeson House and Historical Society of Princeton are also involved. “The idea is to look at the influence of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood in forming our local government for many years, and the importance of the neighborhood in local politics,” said Janie Hermann, Public Programming Librarian for the Princeton Public Library. “Each panelist will be asked about what Princeton was like in their time in government, what they managed to accomplish, and how the town has evolved. It’s a look at the changing landscape of our community through the political lens.”

Mr. Liverman grew up in Princeton and attended Littlebrook, John Witherspoon, and Princeton High schools. Two of his children are currently public school students and another is at Rutgers University. “I think people will be a little amazed at how a lot of us got here,” he said. “For me, living in Princeton and then having various things happen around town that I didn’t perceive in going in the right direction, I knew I had to step up and do something.”

One of Mr. Liverman’s first experiences in local government was as a member of the Human Services Commission. “They took people from the senior population, welfare, civil rights, and youth, and put them together,” he said. “From that point on, I had a strong interest in wanting to do for my community. I knew if I was sitting on Council, I could make more decisions.”

Ms. Trotman came to Princeton in 1962 after marrying a native Princetonian. “I got into politics after three years of Barbara Sigmund and Penny Carter asking me if I would run for a seat on Borough Council,” she said. “I said no at first, but in the end I agreed because I had found out by that time that it was better to be in the mix of things to really find out how it worked.”

Her negative experience with the school system, which she did not detail, involved her son who was about to enter kindergarten. It led Ms. Trotman to join the Civil Rights Commission in 1972. “When I finally agreed to run for the seat on Borough Council, I won. Then I found out there were some in the community who thought it was a fluke, so I thought maybe I should run again,” she recalled. “I did and I won, and did for a total of seven consecutive times. Then I won two times for mayor — one for an unexpired term, and one for a full term. So it was getting involved in an awkward kind of way, but I don’t regret any of the experiences I had.”

Ms. Trotman has served on nearly every board and commission for 27 consecutive years. “You get to know a lot of people,” she said. “Politics was among the most rewarding experiences. I met people I would have not otherwise met and visited places I would not have otherwise visited.”

The program will include a question and answer period with the panelists. The goal is to build a permanent record and directory linking the written and photographic collections currently housed by the partner institutions in the project. “If you look at the leadership of Princeton, we have had a good, strong diversity in our government over time, and we’re highlighting that,” said Ms. Hermann.