Shirley Satterfield, longtime Princeton resident, reflects on history of Princeton's African American community
In a dinner discussion on Tuesday, Shirley Satterfield, a longtime Princeton resident who experienced Princeton’s racial integration first-hand, reflected on the intersection between Princeton’s history and African American civil rights.
Satterfield’s family, the Van Zan(d)t Moore May family, has resided in Princeton for the last six generations. She explained that the “d” is left in parentheses to “separate the blacks and whites” in her family, since her great grandfather was white.
Born in Philadelphia but raised in Princeton, Satterfield has witnessed the town’s racial evolution. She attended Witherspoon School for Colored Children, when segregation still existed in Princeton, and later transferred to Nassau Street School in 1947 when integration began.
Her mother, Alice May, and grandmother, Annie May, were her anchors while growing up. Satterfield’s mother used to work in the eating clubs, and Satterfield fondly remembers how her mother always brought home ice cream. Satterfield describes her grandmother as a very religious woman and her “rock.” To Annie May, all Sundays were meant for church.
In 1948, when Satterfield was in the third grade, all the schools in Princeton became integrated, and Satterfield believes that is when the achievement gap began, because the students “weren’t taught the same,” thereby affecting their progress.
“Even though the schools were integrated, the teachers separated us,” Satterfield said.
In 1954, she began attending Princeton High School. Black students were automatically placed in the general, less intensive program unless otherwise advised, but Satterfield’s mother made it a point to enroll Satterfield in the academic program.
The racism extended beyond the schools. Satterfield recalls Christine’s Beauty Parlor, ran by an African American woman but catered to high-class, white women. When Satterfield was young, her mother sent her to the beauty parlor to wash her hair, and Christine washed Satterfield’s hair in the back, afraid that her business’ reputation would be tainted if her customers discovered that she had tended to a black girl.
Despite the entrenched racism in Princeton, Satterfield still has fond memories of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. Previous local establishments, like the 41-year old restaurant owned by Mr. Griggs and located where Griggs Corner is now and the Princeton Playhouse where a quarter afforded one movie showing, all contributed to a good childhood.
According to Satterfield, Albert Einstein also used to walk around her neighborhood when he took strolls around the Institute for Advanced Study. He knew about segregation because of how Jewish people were treated in Germany.
“I remember his sandals and his hair,” said Satterfield. “I remember him taking me around, but I had no idea who he was.”
Although Satterfield began her college education by studying secretarial science at Rider College in Trenton, she “hated every single minute of it” and transferred to Bennett College in North Carolina instead. While studying at Bennett, Satterfield sat at the counters with the Greensboro Four during her participation in the Greensboro sit-ins, a series of nonviolent protests in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960. She recalled white hecklers calling them out, throwing things, and shouting “n*gger.”
After graduating from Bennett College, Satterfield and two of her “Bennett sisters” moved to Las Vegas, where they each paid $33 monthly rent. While living in Las Vegas, Satterfield and her friends drove across the country to visit Princeton in 1964, and she remembers the discrimination she faced in the Deep South during the road trip. In Tennessee, although they had called ahead to place a hotel reservation, upon their arrival, they were directed to the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed four years later.
After teaching in elementary and high schools in the 1960s and 1970s, Satterfield resumed her education by earning a master’s degree in guidance and counseling at Trenton State, now known as the College of New Jersey. Joining the Historical Society of Princeton in 1990, Satterfield established the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Walking Tour to increase awareness of the African American history in Princeton and to commemorate her “history partner” and friend, Hinds. In 1993, Satterfield returned to where she started and became a guidance counselor at Princeton High School.
Over a catered dinner on Dec. 5 in Whitman College’s private dining room, 12 undergraduate and graduate students joined Satterfield in this intimate conversation, accompanied by a slideshow featuring photographs from Satterfield’s lineage, tracing it all the way back to her great-grandparents. Along with a map of Princeton, Satterfield marked historical places relevant to Princeton and African American history, while narrating her childhood’s intersection with the town’s racial evolution.