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ELIZABETH “BETSEY” STOCKTON (1798-1865)
225TH BIRTH ANNIVERSARY

 

THE PRINCETON PLAN (1948)
75TH ANNIVERSARY

 

By Shirley Satterfield

 

It is believed that Elizabeth “Betsey” Stockton was born in the year 1798 in Princeton, NJ—exactly 100 years before the birth of Paul Leroy Robeson! In the 1860 Federal Census she is listed as a “mulatto”: her father was white, and her mother was an enslaved woman. Elizabeth was taken from her birth mother and given to the Robert Stockton family.

 

During the years that Betsey was enslaved, she spent most of her time educating herself under the guidance and instruction of Reverend Ashbel Green, a Presbyterian minister and the eighth president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University). By the time she was about 20 years old, she received her manumission and full membership to the First Presbyterian Church (Nassau Presbyterian Church). In the church’s records she was identified as “a colored woman living in the family household of the Reverend Dr. Green.”

 

Betsey Stockton, circa 1863

 

After receiving her manumission, she prepared to do missionary work in the Sandwich Islands. Her missionary work was serving as a teacher to children in Hawaii. After her successful years as an educator in Hawaii and having the desire to continue her journey, she taught in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1829 she was asked by a Methodist minister to teach at an Indian Infant School in Canada. There she established a school on the shores of Grape Island along the Canadian side of Lake Ontario.

 

In 1833, Betsey returned to Princeton and began a lasting and contributing relationship within the colored community. In the 1830 and 1860 census she was referred to as “a single woman living alone but surrounded by many people of color.” She was a respected teacher who taught in a small building believed to have been provided by the First Presbyterian Church (Nassau Presbyterian Church). The building was made of wood and described as “Neat and convenient… an excellent school.”

 

For almost 30 years, she taught the children during the day and adults and youth who worked in the evening. For ten of those years she received a compensation of $1.00 per week with a register listing 45 students. Betsey Stockton was regarded as an “Excellent teacher who was thought to exert a healthy influence among the colored population.”

 

The first Witherspoon Street School for Colored Children

 

Princeton residents continued to own slaves in small numbers into at least the 1840s, mainly as property of professors and presidents of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University). However, besides Betsey’s small schoolhouse, there were no other institutions of learning for those who were enslaved or for free colored residents of Princeton, who comprised about 20% of the total population. There were private schools and model schools in the area, however none admitted colored children.

 

In 1851, public education was incorporated in Princeton, New Jersey, and in 1858 the Witherspoon Street School for Colored Children opened as an incorporated Borough school serving Princeton’s Black students as a continuation of Betsey Stockton’s school. In 1873 a new building was constructed on the corner of Witherspoon and MacLean Streets for a school to educate the colored children in the Borough and Township of Princeton. The Township Municipality paid the Borough to send the students who lived in the Township to attend the Witherspoon School for Colored children. The school educated students from kindergarten through 8th grade.

 

In 1907, due to the increase in the number of pupils, the Princeton Board of Education agreed to purchase a new site for the construction of a larger school. On February 20, 1908, a larger school for colored children was built on Quarry Street and on June 11, 1908, the new building was authorized at a cost of $22,000.00. Even though the school was then located on Quarry Street it still kept the name of Witherspoon School for Colored Children.

 

The new Witherspoon School for Colored Children, c. 1907

 

The rationale to continue a school in this neighborhood was explained, “since the area from Jackson Street to Birch Avenue housed the colored population in Princeton, the needs of the Black people could be best served by separate facilities.” This arrangement meant that the most practical way to provide instruction for the colored children of the Borough and Township was to have their own building and their own teachers in their own neighborhood.

 

It was in 1945 that the Princeton Board of Education and the school administration considered the consolidation of the Witherspoon School for Colored Children and Nassau Street Elementary School. This consideration was met with much opposition from many white parents at the Nassau Street Elementary School. The parents in the Witherspoon-Jackson community were concerned because their children would lose their dedicated and caring Colored teachers who were also respected residents in the neighborhood. Some Witherspoon students were part of a token form of integration at the seventh and eighth grade level when they were allowed to attend Nassau Street School to learn Latin and French to be able to take academic courses in high school.

 

Nassau Street Elementary School

 

In 1947 the New Jersey Constitution mandated an end to all New Jersey segregated schools. There were 81 members, one Negro among them, who met to work on the constitution that required the legislature to provide for “a thorough and efficient system of free public schools.” During the 1947-1948 school year there were exchange assemblies between the two schools as well as frequent visits. The teachers of the two schools met and many teachers exchanged school assignments.
On April 6, 1948, the Board of Education approved a formal publicity release to announce the complete integration of about two thousand students in Princeton’s schools. The opening of the 1948-49 school year saw the first integration of the Princeton Public Schools, as a result of the consolidation known as The Princeton Plan.

 

(note: “Colored” and “Negro” are used in this article as this is how African Americans were addressed during those years.)

 

Please watch this video on Youtube if you haven’t seen it: “Princeton Plan Fifty Years Later” produced by the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund – 1998

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Community Calendar

WJHCS Trustees Recent Accomplishments and Honors:

 

Honoree: Leighton Newlin

Date: January 5, 2022

Elected: Princeton Councilmember

 

Honoree: Rev. Gregory Smith

Award: Ordination and Installation as Pastor

Date: November 20, 2021

Awarded By: Second Calvary Baptist Church, Hopewell, NJ

 

 

Honoree: Shirley Satterfield

Award: Community Engagement Award

Date: November 17, 2021

Awarded By: Princeton University and Pace Center for Civic Engagement

 

Honoree: Shirley A. Satterfield

Award: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award

Date: January 16, 2021

Awarded By: New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)

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