HomePrinceton PacketPrinceton Packet OpinionPRINCETON: Porches of Jackson Witherspoon neighborhood support cultural history

PRINCETON: Porches of Jackson Witherspoon neighborhood support cultural history

Jacqueline Swain, Princeton
Historic Preservation for the Jackson Witherspoon community. The Historic Preservation Commission examined and determined that the community has all elements necessary to become the 20th historic preservation district in Princeton. In addition, the Wise report fully supports the rationale for the designation. Given all of the study gone into this, I would hope that mayor and council vote this into being.
Though the Lenni Lenape are recorded as the earliest identifiable inhabitants of the Princeton area there exists no artifact w/provenance to evidence this. For all intents and purposes they have been written out of Princeton’s history. I fear the record of an established African American community in Princeton is being slowly written out. Ms. Shirley Satterfield’s chronology of the history (Princeton Packet, Jan. 11) bears this out.
We do matter!
In the early 1920s, along with his wife and many children, my great-grandfather was uprooted from South Carolina by the KKK. Forced to find safe housing in the north, they settled in a house in Princeton. My maternal great-grandparents, my grandparents, my mother, her sister, a great aunt, and I all lived in that house. The house was located in an enclave within the former borough where most of the members of my family (including my paternal grandmother) resided at the time.
As a child I was not aware of the danger outside of that protective quarter, though I knew all of the boundaries beyond which I was not to wander. As an only child back then I played on my porch, my Nana’s porch, an aunt’s porch and several neighbor’s porches. These were all safe places owned by loving/nurturing people. As a child I heard the best gossip in town on those porches.
Ms. Satterfield cited that segregation forced the community into self-sufficiency. . Several hairdressers, home cooks, barbers, and other entrepreneurs operated businesses from their homes. One of the churches actually began in a Green Street living room.
We had no fancy, air conditioned business offices, but we did have porches. The closely built houses all have porches less than 15 feet from the curb. These porches said “welcome!” These porches said, “Pull up a chair and let’s talk.”
In this finely tuned, ultra-efficient micro-economy porch sitting, in addition to supporting social interaction and/or retreat, served as the board room. In my life-time, with no exaggeration, I’d say that I have sat on every porch in the community.
If new builds in the community are examples, porches are a thing of the past.
Ms. Satterfield (in her letter) speaks to the fact that in Jim Crow Princeton, African Americans have done as well if not better than non-African Americans, by gaining prosperity. Being only one block wide by eight blocks long, this community has suffered much, yet contributed mightily to the life of this town. All eight architectural types identified as meeting the historic preservation requirements exist in the Jackson Witherspoon area. The structure of each porch holds cultural history that should be protected. 
Jacqueline Swain 
Princeton 

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