Welcome to the 54th reunion for Princeton’s Class of ’64! Not the “regular” class. Instead, we’re convening at the reunion for a special summer program for disadvantaged high school kids from the city. Its most well-known graduate – Harlan Bruce Joseph. Like most at the beginning of this tour, I had no idea who he was or what his fate would be.
Today (5-31-18) Kyle Berlin (Valedictorian for the class of 2018) and Milan Eldridge (Class of 2020) led three dozen people – townies and alumni — in a performance walk “Walking Histories: Race and Protest at Princeton and in Trenton,” one of five different tours offered by the Trenton Project. At this writing, three performances remain, all starting at Princeton University Art Museum. If you read this in time they are – all different —
Friday, June 1 at 10 a.m. Performed by Berlin and Eldridge, written by Berlin and Anna Kimmel.
Friday, June 1 at 11 a.m. Written and performed by Ben Bollinger: “Whites turn around to see a Negro dressed in Ivy clothes and carrying a bag marked “Princeton.”
Saturday, June 2, at 10 a.m. Written and performed by Maria Jerez: A life of Javier Johnson White.”
If not catch the Picturing Protest exhibition at the Art Museum, on view for the next five months. Or on first Mondays at 7 pm at Princeton Public Library, come to Not in Our Town Princeton’s Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege. On June 4, you will hear and discuss how racial literacy is taught at Princeton High School.
Alison Isenberg and Aaron Landsman supervised this project; Landsman coached the students in the dramaturgy of how to tell this story like a play. The first stop: Spelman Apartments, named after Laura Spelman Rockefeller, a philanthropist and abolitionist whose dollars funded the first trial of the summer program for high schoolers said to have had “little hope for college.”
Next stop: the Lewis Center, near where Joseph would have arrived on the Dinky train, from Trenton. Contrast: the Lewis Center cost $180 million. Trenton is trying to build an arts center with $80,000. (Rich Rein quotes Berlin in his cover story in U.S. 1 this week, and here is the Berlin oped complete.
Continuing the ironic comparisons, Berlin stops at Whitman College (actually named after Meg but, for this tour, credited to poet Walt), and we learn that it cost $136 million to build, almost six times more than the city of Trenton’s annual budget. It was designed in ‘fake Gothic,” says Berlin, appropriate, he says, since eBay dotes on nostalgia.
At the next stop we learn, for this tour, that the building labeled Wilson College should really be named after Preston Wilcox, a social scientist and human rights activist who advocated for black history studies.
We leave the summer of 1964 and move to the spring of 1968 and the unrest after the King assassination. At this point Joseph is a sophomore at Lincoln University preparing to go to seminary. The police shot Joseph as a looter but all those who knew him deny that he would have done that. He was the only person who died in those riots. We hear from the eulogy by beloved pastor G. Carter Woodson: “We are responsible for the conditions that allow riots to take place.”
The boys of that 1964 summer were turned away from a Princeton barbershop. They wrote a letter to Town Topics in protest.
In their class they debated about that summer’s police brutality in Harlem. .
We share Joseph’s letter about his aspirations to be a minister. The letter was printed on cards, and we passed them around, reading it sentence by sentence: “I have the foundation and tools to be an effective minister, and I strive to help those who are discriminated against…Keep on trying. In every group there will be some listening to what you are saying.”
Was Harlan Bruce Joseph a looter? Or a dreamer? We are asked to imagine that his statue has been erected “over there.”