Planet Princeton

James Floyd, first African-American mayor of Princeton Township, dies at 96

Jim Floyd at a fraternity event in 2015.

James Floyd, the first African-American mayor of Princeton Township and a community activist for several decades, died Monday morning. He was 96.

Born in Trenton in 1922, he was the oldest son of John and Adeline Floyd. A 1939 graduate of Trenton Central High School, he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from West Virginia State College in 1944. He was president of his class and president of his fraternity at West Virginia State, where he also played basketball and graduated magna cum laude.

Floyd worked for Stokes Molded Products in Trenton after he graduated from college. In 1946, he married Princeton native Fannie Reeves and the couple lived on Quarry Street in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood for many years. He was an active member of the Witherspoon Presbyterian Church and led the meetings of the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association up until a few years before his death. He was active in his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, until recent years, and helped organize events to raise money for college scholarships through the fraternity.

He served the Princeton Borough Zoning Board and several other government boards. He moved to Harris Avenue in Princeton Township in 1961, and was appointed to the planning board before being elected to the Princeton Township Committee in 1969 as a Democrat. He was named mayor in 1971.

Floyd retired from the Electric Storage Battery Company in 1982, and then served as a vice president for personnel at ETS for five years. A champion for equal housing rights and affordable housing, he was a charter member of the non-profit Princeton Community Housing. He has served on numerous other non-profit boards, including the local chapter of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the board of Princeton Cemetery, the United Way, and the Association for the Advancement of Mental Health.

Floyd was often referred to as the conscience of Princeton, and attended public meetings, sometimes challenging local politicians about their positions and promises.

“We all learned to admire him,” former Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed said. “He will be deeply missed, but the memory of Jim Floyd will always be there as we think about the center of our town.”

Sheldon Sturges, the founder of Princeton Future, said Floyd was knowledgable and passionate about a variety of issues.

“He was a mighty man,” Sturges said. “He really knew how to talk in a straight-up way. He was very plain speaking on the issue of race. He knew the history, and the history was pretty grim. We will all miss him.”

Yina Moore, the last mayor of the former Princeton Borough, said her parents went to college with Floyd’s wife and were close friends with Jim and Fannie Floyd. She enjoyed listening to discussions when they visited her family’s house.

“I will remember Jim Floyd’s voice, particularly in support of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood,” Moore said. “His presence will be missed, but his inspiration will live on.”

Floyd is survived by his sons James, Jr. and Michael, and granddaughter Isobel Allen-Floyd. His wife of 62 years, Fannie, died in 2008.

We will update this post with more details and funeral arrangements when the information becomes available. 

Jim Floyd talks to first-year Princeton University students about what it was like to try to buy a home in a white neighborhood in Princeton in 1961. For students, his talk was the highlight of the 2015 Planet Princeton community service journalism project.
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Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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