Residents Confront Gentrification

By Sabrin Sultana

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Shirley Satterfield’s family has been living in Princeton for six generations. She was born in Philadelphia but was raised in Princeton’s Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. After college, she moved away, and when she came back in 1981, everything had changed.

Satterfield said she felt like “African Americans were not recognized in the community” for their hard work, and she worried that Princeton was “losing its history.” Outsiders started coming to this neighborhood, which forced African Americans to leave Witherspoon- Jackson for areas they could afford to live in.

Satterfield has created a tour for the Historical Society of Princeton to memorialize the neighborhood and the town’s extensive African American history. During the Great Migration, African Americans moved from the Deep South looking for jobs. They settled near the University, but much of that neighborhood was later demolished to make way for Palmer Square, a collection of high-end restaurants and shops.

African American Princetonians then moved to the Witherspoon- Jackson neighborhood. Witherspoon-Jackson included Princeton’s first integrated lower school, the “Colored Cemetery” where prominent African Americans are buried, and Miss Vann’s Ice Cream Parlor, one of many businesses run out of private homes.

Eventually, however, prices in the neighborhood began to rise. Now many properties cost as much as $1 million — far beyond what many families can afford.

Satterfield said she “wants the town’s history to stay forever.” But historical houses are either being renovated or knocked down in favor of more modern structures. In the meantime, the high prices are forcing people out.

Sharon “Nini” Campbell’s family has lived in Princeton since the 1930s. “People who grew up here can’t afford it,” she said. Campbell, 70, lives in a one-bedroom affordable housing unit in the Waxwood building, which used to be Princeton’s first integrated lower school.

Witherspoon-Jackson was too expensive for Debora Lapointe, who spoke to a reporter at a park in the neighborhood. So was every other area near the University. The 44-year-old had little choice but to live in Griggs Farm, a low-income community in Princeton.

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