“I have always identified with and been fascinated by the vital and vibrant black community in Princeton. And though I have been blessed to experience the best of Princeton University, my memories of the great Paul Robeson and the courageous Bruce Wright keep me in touch with the worst of Princeton’s often overlooked recent past.”
When one thinks of Princeton, New Jersey, visions of the hallowed halls of one of the greatest learning institutions in the United States comes to mind, but rarely does the name cause one to think of the African-American experience. Katheryn Watterson’s novel, “I Hear My People Singing,” will change how you look at Princeton. Motivated to bring the historical stories of struggle and strife to light, Watterson gives readers a unique and rarely discussed the view of the Black experience in Princeton, N.J.
Watterson records the memories of over 50 African-Americans, and in their words, they share various snippets of their lives in Princeton. The stories told navigates segregation, war, and the Civil Rights era. One thing that becomes quickly and abundantly clear, as you read these narratives, is that living in Princeton, did not afford them escape from the harsh realities of the time. Their experiences and lessons from that era, are inextricably tied to those of their brothers and sisters nationwide.
In one passage of the book, participants share stories of attending newly segregated schools and the challenges that presented. In other stories, retired soldiers and officers reflect on their choices to serve the country. Who knew that black police officers in Princeton were not allowed in patrol cars until 1962?
The reflections of these Princetonians resonate within the reader, and their previously unheard voices have earned them a place in the ranks of those who have paved the way for the rest of us. I Hear My People Singing gives those voices a medium that in this time of unsung heroes and hidden figures is a reminder to each of us of the ties that bind.
Lest we forget.