Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Kathryn Watterson's new book: I Hear My People Singing

I Hear My People Singing: Voices of African-American Princeton, published by Princeton University Press (2017), is a microcosm of American history. We live with a myth that slavery was in the South. This eye-opening book takes us into human bondage, segregation, and racial injustice in the North. It grew out of an oral history project that began in 1999, when Kathryn Watterson enlisted her Princeton University students to help her and her neighborhood partners save the stories of a generation who had grown up in the Jim-Crow town of Princeton, New Jersey, where segregation was a way of life in the schools, restaurants, stores, and on campus.

Their words, excerpted from fifty-five interviews, provide a living account that intimately connects the residents of the Witherspoon-Jackson community to the lives lived by their enslaved grandparents, great-grandparents and great-greats before them. Their stories shine light into the inner spirit and ingenuity of a people, who for the past three and a half centuries, against the constant tyranny of discrimination, actively worked to bring down the barriers and assumptions erected to bar their progress. They built institutions and strategies and organizations to protect, heal, and enrich the lives of their children and each other.

The introduction to the book and to each chapter contextualizes the historical background, while the power of the residents’ personal stories connect us through time. The strength shown in this small black neighborhood defies anti-black stereotypes, and affirms the beauty, resilience, and dignity of Black lives. As one reader wrote: “Reading this book is not an intellectual exercise. It takes us into the human experience. The power of the individual opens our eyes and hearts to other people’s lives and becomes woven into our own.”


Reviews and Articles

I Hear My People Deeply and Clearly by Wendy Plump


Trials and Triumphs of a Neighborhood by Stuart Mitchner


'I Hear My People Singing' Explores Princeton's African American Roots


“Across Nassau Street,” by Deborah Yaffe