Joseph Charles Price an Unsung Hero
By Dr. Lenwood Davis
During Black History Month a number of African American heroes are discussed such as Crispus Attucks, Benjamin Banneker, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, A. Phillip Randolph, Paul Robeson, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Malcolm X and too many others to name.
Among the number of Unsung African American heroes who are usually forgotten is Joseph Charles Price. He was a major African American leader between 1880 – 1893.
Joseph Charles Price was born in Elizabeth City, N.C. on Feb. 10, 1854. Emily Paulin, his mother, was born a free African American woman and his father, Charles Dozier, was a slave. During Slavery the child always followed the status of the mother. Since Price’s mother was a free woman, he also was a free child. Price and his mother moved to New Bern, N.C., to escape the fighting of the Civil War. During this time New Bern was behind the Union lines. There were no schools for free African Americans in slave territory and Elizabeth City was in slave territory. Emily Paulin wanted her son to be educated so that he would be more than a farm hand. It was in New Bern that Price’s mother met and later married David Price, whose name Joseph Charles adopted.
While in New Bern, Price attended Saint Cyprian Episcopal School. This school was under the control of a Boston Society known as the Lowell Normal School. He attended Shaw University, in Raleigh in 1873. He left Shaw and transferred to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1875 and graduated from there in 1879 with an A. B. degree in Theology.
In 1881 Price went to London, England, to represent the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at the Ecumenical Conference. While at the meeting, Price made a five-minute speech that electrified the audience. The London Times called him “The World’s Orator.” He stayed in England for a year and when he returned home in 1882, he had raised about $10,000 above his expenses for Zion Wesley Institute (now Livingstone College). During that same year, Joseph Charles Price was elected president of the Institute.
J.C. Price, as he was sometimes called, became a widely known leader in 1890 when two national conventions, The Afro American League and the National Protective Association, elected him as their president. In 1890 he was also selected as one of the “The Ten Greatest Negroes Who Ever Lived,” in a poll by the 8,000 subscribers of The Indianapolis Freeman. The other nine “Greatest Negroes” were: Frederick Douglas, Timothy Thomas Fortune, Toussaint L “Ouverture, Daniel Payne, George Washington Williams, Blanche K. Bruce, Peter H. Clark, J. Milton Turner, and Edward E. Cooper, editor of the Freeman.
The educator, J.C. Price, believed that African American men and women should educate their own people and not depend on whites. He stated: “We must lead on in the great work committed to our charge. Every day of added intelligence, every trained young man or woman, every schoolhouse, every college or university, adds to our power to do this work. Under the guidance of a God, a prospect opens before us, unequaled in attraction and not excelled in mighty possibilities.” He surmised that the African American colleges and universities in the South would be the institutions that would prepare African American men and women to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. Price believed that these institutions were doing an outstanding job in educating their graduates.
The educator, J.C. Price, declared: “his (African American) progress as a leader and teacher … in the various institutions of the land where white and colored men and women are subjected to the same examinations, the impartial tests before the Supreme Courts in the respective states, and the credible and successful manner in which he has complied with the rigid requirements of medical state boards throughout the land have been gradually convincing the most biased and prejudiced that he possesses the essential capabilities of a human being.”
Price the leader put his faith in the South because he saw it was the providential home of African Americans. He thought this was the one section of the country where African Americans would advance educationally, socially, politically, culturally, and spiritually. He once surmised: “If there is one spot on this broad continent to which the finger of Providence points as the place where the Negro is to build up a manhood and womanhood the world has never seen, it is the Southland.”
Price also thought that educated African American men and women should contribute, not only to the education of their own community, but to the larger community and country. Price the minister suggested: “It is the object of all education to aid man in becoming a producer as well as a consumer. To enable men and women to make their way in life and contribute to the material wealth of their community or country, to develop the resources of their land, is the mainspring in the work of all our schools and public or private systems of training.”
Price the orator urged African American men and women not only to ask for civil and political rights but to demand them. He said African Americans do not find the companionship of whites so necessary as some would argue.
Price asserted: “Among his own people, the Negro finds fairly intelligent ministers and often learned ones, capable lawyers, skilled physicians, well-trained teachers, versatile and energetic newspapermen, accomplished musicians, men in comfortable and frequently wealthy circumstances, and women of culture and refinement.”
Although Joseph Charles Price was an acknowledged national and international leader, orator, college president, educator, Pan Africanist historian, temperance leader, writer, scholar, an early advocate for women’s rights, he is one unsung African American whose name is omitted from the history books. Hopefully, future Black History Month celebrations will include Joseph Charles Price and his contributions to his race.
Dr. Lenwood Davis is a professor in the Department of English and Foreign Language at Winston-Salem State University.
SOURCE: Winston-Salem Chronicle