The history of the Witherspoon-Jackson community has not been forgotten in Princeton with the help of Shirley Satterfield.
The local historian and long-time Princeton resident grew up in the historically Black Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. She continues a mission of preserving the neighborhood’s history and telling the stories of African American residents in the community.
Satterfield was celebrated and recognized for her work when the Joint Effort Witherspoon-Jackson Community Princeton Safe Streets 2022 Summer Program held its kickoff reception at Studio Hillier on Witherspoon Street in Princeton on Aug. 5.
“It takes one person who cares, one person who has stood up, one person who said, ‘My history, our history, this community’s history is important’,” said John Bailey, founder of the Princeton Safe Streets Summer program.
He noted that when they informed Satterfield that they were going to be recognizing her, she said, “Wait it is not about me, it is about the community. It is about the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical Society and not just Shirley Satterfield. Because if it was not for all of the members, we would not be able to do what we needed to do.”
Applause rang out in Studio Hillier from those who attended the kickoff reception as Satterfield walked from her seat to the front.
“Everyone in here has been a part of my journey, whether you are an organization, whether you are the university, whether you grew up with me on Clay Street, whether you are a council member, whether you are Robert Hillier [Princeton architect] … Robert and all of your architects that worked with us [with the Heritage Plaques commemoration],” she said, adding all have been her backbone.
“I just need to thank everybody.”
Satterfield is the founder of the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society. With the research and the clubhouse eight, they aided Princeton with designating the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood as the borough’s 20th Historic District.
“I’ll keep on doing this history, because when I came here and when the history was not done and all they would talk about was white history, I said what about all the people who lived here,” she said.
To this day, Satterfield leads tours of the neighborhood that span Birch Avenue, Leigh Avenue, Clay Street, Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place.
“We are so grateful for you for continuing to keep the legacy alive and continuing to keep our history in front of us,” Mercer County Commissioner Sam Frisby said.
Satterfield’s efforts spurred the marking of historic sites in the neighborhood.
Twenty-nine Heritage metal plaques now stand to tell the history of significant sites within the community, which first began in 2017 with the help of Princeton architect J. Robert Hillier and Studio Hillier.
“This [was] Shirley’s idea and this way you can walk around and see all these old buildings and know their significance to the African American community. They are stainless steel, so they are going to last forever,” he said.
The sights in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood include Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, Witherspoon School for Colored Children [first K-8 public school for children of color in the Borough of Princeton], Elks Home-Lodge 178 on Birch Avenue and American Legion Post 218 [for African American veterans].
Residents and people visiting Princeton are able to take self-guided tours with the Heritage plaques throughout the community.
Satterfield said her mission is not done yet.
“I want to keep on going until we get a museum, so all of your history can be seen where people can enjoy it,” she said.