Albert E. Hinds

(Portrait by Peter C. Cook)

Princeton Legend and Witness to History

By Jean Stratton

Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States. Woodrow Wilson was president of Princeton University. Nassau Street was a dirt road; most people traveled in horse-drawn carriages, and Henry Ford’s Model-T had not yet taken over the roads.

Silent movies were just beginning to attract an audience. There were no powered airplanes, household radios, television sets, fax machines, smartphones, computers, DVDs, or streaming. Certainly, no Facebook or Twitter.

Penicillin had not yet been discovered, nor was the polio vaccine available. Princeton Hospital had not yet been built, let alone become a medical center. The devastating 1918 influenza pandemic was more than a decade away.

It was 1902, the year Albert Edward Hinds was born in Princeton.

Living Legend

Despite his entrance into the world in that long ago time, Hinds’ influence has spanned the decades, and his contributions have inspired many in Princeton and beyond.

Hinds, who was indeed a living legend in Princeton, died in 2006 at the age of 104. His remarkable life was a tribute to his intelligence, self-reliance, endurance, determination, and generosity of spirit.

As an African American, he was well known to the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, points out his distant cousin, Princeton resident Shirley Satterfield. A former educator and guidance counselor, she is founder and president of the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society, and leads Heritage Walking Tours.

“He had been telling the town’s history for years, but only those in the immediate community heard it,” said Satterfield. “He was the oldest Black man in Princeton, and I guess that’s when his legacy started. But those of us in the neighborhood knew Mr. Hinds and how great he really was. He told us about Princeton way back through the 1900s.”

Way back indeed!

(Photo courtesy of Shirley Satterfield)

All My Beginnings

In his own words, from my interview with him in a 2005 Town Topics article, he recalled some of those earliest years.

“I was born at home, in our house on the corner of Witherspoon and Quarry streets,” said Hinds. “Everyone was born at home then. This was before Princeton Hospital was built. The hospital location was then a dairy farm.

“All my beginnings were one block from Witherspoon Street. I went to school there, and my church was Mt. Pisgah at Maclean and Quarry streets. It is the oldest Black church in Princeton, and is still my church.”

Son of Arthur and Sophia Hinds, Albert Edward was named for royalty.

“My father was originally from British Guyana, and I was named both for British and Belgian royalty,” he explained.

His parents were busy working and providing for the family. His father was a waiter at the Princeton University eating clubs on Prospect Street, and his mother worked as a domestic for a Princeton family as well as caring for her own children.

The oldest child in the family, Hinds was brother to four girls and three boys, and he remembered a happy childhood, filled with good times and lots of hard work.

“I just enjoyed myself, and took things in stride,” he said. “I first attended the Witherspoon Elementary School, and then in 1910 the Quarry Street School was built, and I went there. Both schools were segregated.”

Unpaved Nassau Street. (Historical Society of Princeton)

“Owl” Train

Hinds was very involved in numerous weekend and after school jobs, and his great passion was horses. For a time, it took precedence over school, he reported in the 2005 interview.

“In seventh or eighth grade, horses interrupted my education. Brown Brothers had a livery stable where the Post Office (now former Post Office) is today. There were horses galore! I was so interested in them that I’d miss school to go to the livery stable.

“Then, I was hired to drive a hack — remember, these were horse-drawn carriages in those days. I was just a young kid, and I’d drive to Princeton Junction at midnight to pick up passengers on the ‘Owl’ Train. I had two teams of horses that I groomed and took care of. I also had a chance to ride the horses.”

“Nassau Street was a dirt road then,” continued Hinds. “I later helped to pave it around 1919. But before that, you’d see people riding horseback down the street, and they would race horse-drawn sleighs there in winter. There was also a race track in Princeton, at the end of Leigh Avenue, across Route 206.”

In addition to his job at the livery stable, Hinds delivered newspapers. “During World War I, I delivered the papers, and also kept up with what was going on in the war,” he said. “Also, here is a list of some of the other jobs I’ve had. Work never kills you!

“I delivered milk, worked in a butcher shop, a stationery store, laid bricks, and took care of the furnace at the library, which was then at Bainbridge House on Nassau Street (now home to a gallery for the Princeton University Art Museum). I also had a shoeshine box that I made from a box that held nails for horses’ shoes. I got it from the stable.”

Sports, especially football, were another of Hinds’ interests, and he was a star end on the integrated Princeton High School football team. Dubbed “Man o’ War” (for the famous race horse) by his teammates, he was quick and had good hands. At 5’4, he made up for lack of height by his ability and speed.

Silent Movies

In winter, he and his friends had fun with their sleds on Quarry Street, and they also liked to see the silent movies at nearby theaters. “Movies were segregated then, and we sat up in the balcony,” he recalled.

During summers when he was in high school, Hinds worked at Swift & Company Meat Packing in Jersey City, in the tobacco fields in Windsor, Conn., and at the Raritan Arsenal in New Brunswick, uncapping cannons.

“We weren’t allowed to bring in matches,” he remembered, “and when we first went to work, they gave us a notice: ‘In the event of an accident, where do you want your body sent?’”

After graduating from high school in 1923, Albert attended Lincoln College in Pennsylvania, and then went south to New Orleans, La. At the suggestion of his friend, William Mitchell, he took a job with the Colored YMCA, and also attended Straight College in New Orleans.

“I admired William Mitchell, who was four years my senior,” said Hinds. “He was a Princetonian, and he and Paul Robeson were very good friends. He had worked with the YMCA in New York and in New Orleans. He asked me to go to New Orleans, and I became interested in YMCA work.”

He also immediately liked New Orleans. “It was a very cosmopolitan city, even in 1924, and it was more flexible about race than any other Southern city,” he pointed out. “I was there 10 years, and I would have stayed longer if the economic conditions had been better.”

The Waxwood on Quarry Street. (Photo by Jeffrey E. Tryon)

The Waxwood

While there, he was instrumental in bringing together two other famous Princetonians: Howard Waxwood and Susie Waxwood. Howard Waxwood later became the much admired principal of the Witherspoon Elementary School for Colored Children. The building has been reconfigured into apartments, and is now known as The Waxwood.

“Howard and I grew up together in Princeton,” recalled Hinds. “He was working at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and I was in New Orleans. He came down and got a job at Straight College. I had met Susie, then Susie Brown, and introduced them. They married, and lived in Princeton a long time.”

After leaving New Orleans, Hinds attended Talladega University in Alabama, majoring in educational recreation, and took a variety of courses, including sociology. He graduated in 1934, and spent one year working in Alabama before returning to New Jersey.

He was then hired by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) to oversee the playgrounds in Hightstown. “Then I was transferred to the Colored YMCA in Princeton, where I enjoyed teaching and coaching all different sports programs. Later I was sent to Trenton, where I directed the Charles Young USO program.”

During World War II, Hinds married Heidee Ethel Galbraith, and they had a daughter, Heidee Myrna, who now lives in Atlanta. Mrs. Hinds died shortly after the birth of their daughter, and he subsequently married twice again. His wives, Esther and Inez, are both deceased.

During the war, he worked at the Eastern Aircraft Plant, assembling wing parts. After the war ended, he became an exterminator, working at the state hospital for 17 years, until he retired in 1970.

Carpenter Ants

In fact, that was not his first venture in the exterminating business. Earlier, he and his partner Charles Sperling (noted Princetonian and Shirley Satterfield’s uncle) were called upon to help dispatch a hoard of carpenter ants from lumber used in the construction of Palmer Square.

As he recalled, “On the west side of Palmer Square, the lumber was green and infested with carpenter ants,” adding, “Charles Sperling was my boyhood friend, and we were partners in this business. But it wasn’t until years later that I learned about his remarkable career. He spoke eight languages, went on to become a lawyer, traveled all over, advised people in government, and became a very important person.”

The construction of Palmer Square, while a welcome and attractive retail/residential addition in the eyes of many, also caused the displacement of many African Americans in the neighborhood, whose homes were demolished — or in some cases, moved — to make way for the new structures.

The brainchild of Princeton graduate Edgar Palmer, who was also heir to the New Jersey Zinc Company fortune, it was modeled on New York City’s Rockefeller Center, and would become a central town square featuring a Colonial Revival Movement style. It was an ongoing project from 1936 until its completion in 1943.

Hinds’ extermination work there gave him a close-up view of the venture, and he remembered its effect on the African American community.

“A lot of Black people were displaced when Palmer Square was built,” he pointed out. “One of the good things Edgar Palmer did, though, was to move houses from Baker Street, which was demolished, to Birch Avenue. He also bought land, and built some new houses for the people who were displaced. Unfortunately, Black people continue to be displaced, as development expands and neighborhoods change.”

Subtle Racism

“Princeton is my home,” Hinds added in the 2005 interview, “and I like it, but it’s not a place for poor people. It never has been, and there is still subtle racism.”

Hinds’ extermination work also brought him into contact with a very famous Princeton resident, Albert Einstein, who settled in Princeton in the 1930s when he joined the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study.

After working at Einstein’s house, Hinds remained in touch with the renowned physicist, who was a strong supporter of African American justice, and also a close friend of Paul Robeson.

Satterfield recalls a meeting which Hinds attended with the authors Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor about their book Einstein on Race and Racism. “They discussed Einstein’s views, and Mr. Hinds was also interviewed about the book by the BBC in England.”

Famous people have often walked the streets of Princeton over the years, and while there is no reference to a specific meeting between Hinds and Princeton undergraduate F. Scott Fitzgerald, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they might have encountered each other around 1913, when Princeton was a much smaller town.

A freshman at the time, the future famous novelist was thrilled with Princeton. As he wrote in a letter, “I am now a Princetonian. It’s great. I’m crazy about it. This is some place!”

Who knows what encounters could have taken place on Nassau Street in those long ago days!

Young People

It was his work in recreation that meant the most to Hinds, and he continued to share his time and knowledge with young people for many years.

“In all my different jobs in recreation work, I especially enjoyed the young people and the coaching,” he said. “I think and hope I played an important role in the lives of many of the people who I coached or taught. This is something that matters.”

What also mattered greatly in Hinds’ example of how to live a purposeful life was his work in the Princeton community to further social justice for African Americans and help enlighten officials, neighbors, and the community at large about the need to work together to achieve fairness for all.

As an active member in the community, he served on the Borough Zoning Board for many years, participating in a variety of issues that affected the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood and the overall community.

“I was very interested in the Zoning Board, and we discussed important matters,” recalled Hinds. I served under three mayors, and it was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it.”

Patience of Listening

The late James Floyd, a former mayor of Princeton Township, remembered serving on the Zoning Board with him, and was especially aware of Hinds’ patience and willingness to work hard.

“I really learned a lot about people and patience when I served with Al,” said Floyd. “He was a quiet mentor to me. He had the patience of listening. He would always hear you out, then speak from his own experience, and incorporate that into what was going on. He reserved opinion until he heard others’ point of view. Then, when he did speak, he did so with authority.”

That brings to mind one of Hinds’ favorite sayings, which he liked to paraphrase from Martin Luther King Jr., reports Shirley Satterfield. “It is always the right time to do the right thing.”

She established a walking tour identifying African American locations in the Witherspoon-Jackson community in Hinds’ honor, naming it the “Albert E. Hinds Memorial Walking Tour: African American Life in Princeton.”

“I called Mr. Hinds my ‘history partner’ because every time I was asked to speak about the history of the Witherspoon-Jackson community, I asked him to come along because he knew everything,” said Satterfield. “For many years, we gave presentations of the rich African American history in Princeton.”

The range of Hinds’ contributions to Princeton is extraordinary, extending from community activism to the arts, sports, and more, emphasized Satterfield. “For example, not many may know that when the noted artist Rex Gorleigh came to Princeton in 1947, Mr. Hinds worked with him to establish an interracial organization, known as Princeton Group Arts. This was an art group that focused on using the performing and visual arts to bridge racial divides.

“He was the founder of the local NAACP chapter, president of the youth center located in the building where the Colored YMCA had been, and a member of the advisory committee of the Historical Society of Princeton.”

Firsthand Knowledge

With his special knowledge of “Princeton past,” Hinds was very helpful to the Historical Society of Princeton when “A Community Remembers: Princeton’s African American Community” was the society’s featured exhibit in 1996.

The late Gail Stern, then Historical Society director, recalled his contribution at the time. “Albert is a wonderful person. He has a far-reaching memory and a good firsthand knowledge of Princeton’s history. He helped us tremendously with the exhibition and the history of Princeton’s African American community. He is a great resource — a living legacy. I think the world of him.”

A person of strong faith, Hinds regularly attended services every Sunday at Mt. Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he served as usher, trustee, and also helped pump the pipe organ. In his later years, he taught the older members of congregation about nutritional health, and led them in a calisthenics class.

He was also strongly committed to the Suzanne Patterson Senior Center, where he played bridge every Tuesday. An accomplished player, he won the center’s tournament.

“I’ve played for a long time, since I was 15 or 16, even before it was bridge,” he noted in 2005. “I played whist, which was a forerunner of bridge. Bridge is a challenging game. It makes you think, and it makes you honest.”

In addition, he was involved in the LINK (Local Intergenerational Network of Kindness) program at the Center.

Artist Tom Nussbaum’s Hinds Gates and patterns. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

18 Presidents

Hinds’ lifetime spanned the administrations of 18 American presidents, from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush, and as the years passed, his longevity was a source of inspiration to many, and despite some health considerations — “the wear and tear of 100-plus years. I have outlived my warranty!” he once said — he remained incredibly active.

Nevertheless, reflecting on having outlived so many old friends, family, and contemporaries, and despite his involvement in many activities, one can be lonely, he noted. “No one remembers what I remember.”

But there is no question that Albert Edward Hinds will be remembered. Over the years, he was the recipient of many awards and honors. On the occasion of his 100th birthday, he received numerous citations and acknowledgements of friendship and respect, including a Senate Resolution from the state of New Jersey, a plaque from the Zoning Board, a Legacy of Service award from Princeton University Community House, a citation from former Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and a Princeton High School Athletic Hall of Fame plaque.

From his Witherspoon-Jackson neighbors is a citation reading: “Albert Hinds — A wonderful and dedicated citizen, whose leadership, sound judgement, and caring have made a significant difference in the lives of his neighbors and fellow citizens in the community.”

And most recently, the area next to the Princeton Public Library was named the Albert E. Hinds Plaza in his honor in 2013. Containing two “gateways” and memorial plaques, the plaza is an ongoing tribute to his memorable life and achievements.

Shirley Satterfield was instrumental in establishing this memorial to him, as she said, “to recognize the contributions of a resident who gave over 90 years of service to the Princeton community. An ordinary man who did extraordinary things.”

As Hinds’ legacy continues, it becomes more and more evident that he was not only a man for all seasons, but, for his community, the essential man.

Hinds Plaza and the Princeton Public Library. (Photo by Jeffrey E. Tryon)