Joint Effort Safe Streets 2022 Honors The Ancestors of Witherspoon-Jackson
“THE MEMORY OF OUR ANCESTORS”:On August 5, the opening day of the Joint Effort Safe Streets celebrations, 18 vinyl banners, depictions of Romus Broadway’s photo collages of the people of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, were mounted on utility poles around the community. Joint Effort Safe Streets continues through Sunday, August 14 with a variety of events. (Photo courtesy of the Arts Council of Princeton)
By Donald Gilpin
At last Friday’s opening reception for 2022 Joint Effort Safe Streets, Princeton Councilman Leighton Newlin was remembering Romus Broadway, photographer, historian, and one of the “ancestors” to whom the nine-day Joint Effort celebration is dedicated.
“He is resting in peace, and he must have a big smile on his face to know that he has brought all of us together tonight to look at his work and to celebrate ourselves and the town of Princeton,” said Newlin, referring to Broadway and his collection of photo montages depicting many of the residents of the neighborhood.
Eighteen two-by-four-foot vinyl banners, digital depictions of Broadway’s collages, were mounted on poles in the Witherspoon-Jackson (W-J) neighborhood on Friday, August 5 as the culmination of a project by the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP), in collaboration with Princeton University, the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society (WJHCS), and the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association.
Many other W-J ancestors, along with contemporary organizations and individuals, were honored at Friday’s opening ceremonies at Studio Hillier on Witherspoon Street, with special recognition for WJHCS co-founder and neighborhood historian Shirley Satterfield. “It takes one person who cares, one person who stood up, one person who said, ‘My history, our history, this community’s history is important,’” said Joint Effort Founder and Event Coordinator John Bailey in honoring Satterfield.
That rich history of W-J, Princeton’s 20th Historic District, along with the present and future of the neighborhood, is being spotlighted far beyond the photo montage banners. On the morning of August 6, Satterfield led a “community self-guided tour” featuring historic sites designated by 29 Heritage Tour plaques, recently installed under the leadership of Satterfield and the WJHCS.
As the program continues through Sunday, August 14, Joint Effort events include the Wednesday, August 10 Arts, Culture, Scholarships Awards and Recognition starting at 5:30 p.m. at the ACP, with presentations and remarks at 6 p.m. and the Jim Floyd Memorial Lecture by Princeton University Professor Jennifer Garcon, librarian for Modern and Contemporary Special Collections, at 7 p.m.; Hot Topics discussions on race relations on Thursday, August 11 at 5:30 p.m. at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, and on education, development, public safety, marijuana, the neighborhood, and a candidates forum on Saturday August 13 at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Princeton; a community block festival from 1 to 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Princeton YMCA field; and a youth basketball clinic at 10 a.m. Saturday followed on Sunday by the Pete Young Memorial Basketball Games for all ages, beginning at 10 a.m. at the Community Park basketball courts.
A gospel fest and Black family recognition celebration took place on Sunday, August 7, at the First Baptist Church of Princeton, and the first Hot Topics discussion, on reparations in New Jersey and Princeton, was held at the Princeton Public Library at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday August 9.
At the Friday kickoff reception Newlin discussed Broadway’s work. “Romus was brilliant,’ he said. “He wasn’t just a photographer. He was a storyteller. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was leaving a legacy of love. He was chronicling and documenting for us who we were, what we were, and what we meant for the greater good of the community.”
Newlin continued, “For over 50 years Romus took pictures of everyday people, African Americans and Italian Americans doing everyday things. He used his camera to tell a story of a neighborhood of people who lived on an eight-block island that he loved.”
Going on to note the contributions of many different community partners, Newlin added, “To make these banners happen the University had to understand the value of these pictures but also the value of Black people and Italian people who lived here. Then there was the municipality and the Engineering Department who went through hoops to coordinate with Verizon to make sure these banners could go up, and the Arts Council who put this whole project together.”
Bailey mentioned that he had encountered many familiar faces in the photos on the banners. “I saw my mother on a sign,” he said. “I saw family members I grew up with. I saw my brother. I saw some of you on signs as I walked up and down the street, and that says a lot about what Romus did.”
In the final presentation of the two-hour event, kickoff host Bob Hillier, architect and principal of Studio Hillier and a Town Topics shareholder, set forth a plan for the future of Witherspoon Street.
“Tell us from your perspective what you think is getting ready to happen on Witherspoon Street?” said Bailey. “What is the vision?”
“Our plan is simply to restore this street,” said Hillier. “We’re going to restore it back to what it was architecturally when it was first built.” Noting that Witherspoon is the second most important street in Princeton, Hillier pointed out particular buildings displayed in a collage picture of the neighborhood.
Hillier, whose firm owns much of the property on the west side of Witherspoon Street north of Paul Robeson Place, described his vision as an “anti-gentrification” plan, with new micro housing to be built behind existing housing, with significant proportions of affordable housing and “Princeton preference” housing available for longtime neighborhood residents.
“We have to respect this neighborhood,” he said, and, in the spirit of the occasion, he noted that many of the renovated Witherspoon Street buildings would be named after distinguished neighborhood ancestors and more recent local dignitaries. Bailey applauded the “sensitivity and purposefulness” of Hillier’s design.
In addition to Satterfield, other honorees at Friday’s community kickoff included Mayor Mark Freda and Princeton Council members representing the town of Princeton; Bob Hillier and Studio Hillier; retiring Mercer County Commissioner Andrew Koontz; and Princeton Police Chief Christopher Morgan, who will be retiring on October 31. Other speakers at the event included Freda, State Sen. Andrew Zwicker, and Mercer County Commissioners Sam Frisby and Nina Melker.