Tag Archives: black history

Master Juba!

juba 1848
A newspaper’s depiction of Juba performing at Vauxhall Gardens in London in 1848. Credit Illustrated London News

With Shuffle Along closing on Broadway (yes, did you hear, Audra Macdonald is pregnant and ticket sales had slumped) I assuaged my disappointment (I meant to see this reincarnation of the historic black musical, but never did) by picking up a book at the Princeton Public Library’s youth section.

The engrossing and poignant “Juba: A Novel” by Walter Dean Myers is a must-read page-turner for young people interested in dance history and anyone interested in black history. Juba was both the name of a dance and the name of a legendary dancer, William Henry Lane, known as Master Juba, the first black man to dance for white audiences. Read about Juba in the New  York Times Magazine account of Shuffle Along. 

Myers describes how Juba danced for Charles Dickens, who famously wrote about him. In Juba’s (imagined) words, “I let the music take me over and sweep me across the f51m+Xs3h2LL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_loor. I spun, I moved across the floor on one leg and back on the other, I double-stepped, slid on one leg as I moved backward, switched to a six-beat clog step. I danced faster than I had ever danced, and with more precision than I ever had before, and with more joy in my heart. When the piano player got to the last chorus, I was tired and exhausted, and as happy as I had ever been in my life.”

The dancing part is the fun part. The being black in the 19th century is the hard part, but for youthful readers, Myers makes it OK.



February 2 will be Walter Harris Day.  A Princeton Borough police officer, he was shot and killed in the line of duty on February 2, 1946.  Greta Cuyler writes about it for Princeton Patch.

What caught my eye was this paragraph: The grandson of slaves, Walter Harris was born in Princeton and grew up on Jackson Street, which later became Paul Robeson Place. The family’s house was moved to Birch Street when Palmer Square was being developed and the trolley used to run in back of the Harris’ house.

What is now Palmer Square was formerly an a neighborhood of African Americans, many of whom worked at the university.  Those who now live in what is sometimes known as “the Witherspoon neighborhood”  remember the displacement.

Palmer Square is now, indeed, a tremendous asset to Princeton for both tourists and townies. It is a wonderful gathering place. But, as Sheldon Sturges says, it was “an enormous social  justice wound.”

For the Historical Society of Princeton, Shirley Satterfield has put together a wonderful tour of the African American history of Princeton — and anyone can take it, any time, via cellphone.