Before Booker T. Washington, there was Joseph C. Price but his life was cut short

Joseph C. Price, Sketch book of Livingstone College (Salisbury: Livingstone College, 1903)

Joseph Charles Price, a Black educator and civil rights activist, started his education in 1863 at the St. Andrew’s School. It was a learning center established by the first Black missionary to the South, James Walker Hood.

His mother was instrumental in his early education. School authorities tipped Price as one of the most gifted students among his peers. In 1871, he was made the principal of a black school in Wilson. He taught there until 1873.

He went back to school to further his education. He went to Shaw University in Raleigh with the goal of becoming a lawyer, according to The Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. His academic interest switched along the line and he transferred to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to study for the ministry in the A.M.E. Zion Church. He completed in 1879 and spent two years at the theological seminary to upgrade himself further.  

His vision to establish a black college materialized when in 1881 the A.M.E church selected him for an Ecumenical Conference in London. There he met Bishop Hood, who convinced him to embark on a speaking tour of England and other parts of Europe to draw attention to the struggles of black education in the South.

While doing so, Price managed to raise $10,000 to put up a black college in North Carolina. He also had donations from white residents in Salisbury which gave his dream a further boost. His college, Zion Wesley College, later became Livingstone College when it was named after explorer David Livingstone. Price became its president in October 1882 at the age of 28 years old. He started the school with five students and three teachers in a single two-story building. It rose to become one of the South’s most instrumental liberal arts colleges for Blacks.

Despite support from whites in the South like Collis P. Huntington, Leland Stanford and Josephus Daniels, he was of the view that Blacks should take the first step themselves in educating their race. In 1888, he indicated that Livingstone College was evidence of the success the African-American community can achieve if they worked in unity to uplift themselves. He became a national figure because of his leadership of the college and his gift of public speaking.

Price was born in Elizabeth City to a free mother, Emily Pailin, and an enslaved African-American father, Charles Dozier. Dozier was a ship’s carpenter by profession. Dozier was however sold by his owner to a plantation in Baltimore. It left Emily with no choice but to remarry. She settled down with David Price, whom Price was named after. Price’s parents relocated shortly to New Bern and he later married and had five children.

He rejected an ambassadorial job offered to him by President Grover Cleveland, who asked him to serve as a minister to Liberia. Price’s argument was that he could contribute his quota to black development even at home.

He was made the president of both the Afro-American League and the National Equal Rights Convention and named chairman of the Citizens’ Equal Rights Association in 1890. The popularity of the groups waned due to inadequate funding and internal wrangling among the top leaders.

Price, like Booker T. Washington, believed that Blacks could uplift themselves through education and economic development. He argued that the race problem could be addressed through those means.

Price’s work as a civil rights activist and Black educator came to a close when he passed away in 1893. He died of Bright’s disease at the age of 39. He was buried on the campus of Livingstone College.

The Dictionary of North Carolina Biography writes that “W. E. B. Du Bois, August Meier, and others felt that it was the leadership vacuum created by Price’s death into which Booker T. Washington moved, and that had he lived, the influence and reputation of Price and of Livingstone College would have been as great or greater than that achieved by Washington and Tuskegee.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 25, 2023


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