History: Trenton in the ’60s

Princeton-Mellon Initiative PI Alison Isenberg featured in the Princeton Alumni Weekly

History professor Alison Isenberg was deep into her research for a book about American downtowns — and a chapter on urban violence in the 1960s — when she found herself puzzling over a New York Times article. The story was about the 39 people who were killed in nationwide rioting following the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder. The article associated many victims with looting and arson without much evidence, says Isenberg, who was using the piece in a class she was teaching as a professor at Rutgers. She was especially interested in a college student named Harlan Joseph, who was killed by Trenton police, allegedly while looting. Who, she wondered, was Joseph, and what had happened to him? 

After arriving at Princeton in 2010, Isenberg began to answer those questions. Having learned that The Times of Trenton archive was searchable through Princeton’s databases, she researched Joseph’s life. Though just 19 when he was killed, Joseph had led a full life in which Princeton University played an important role. Isenberg’s inquiry led her to launch the first in-depth study of the 1968 Trenton riots and uncover information that raised questions about long-held perceptions of what had happened that day. Her work also has provided uncommon research opportunities for undergraduates.

For the full story, click on https://paw.princeton.edu/article/history-trenton-60s

Photo: Alison Isenberg and Harold Hall before an interview in the Trenton Public Library. Hall was a young police officer patrolling Trenton’s streets April 9, 1968.
Photo credit: Purcell Carson