Price reflects on higher meaning of Civil War


Clement Price

Beverly Hazen | Staff Writer

“Break Every Yoke, Let the Oppressed Go Free!” is the title for the 10:45 a.m. lecture today at the Amphitheater given by Clement Price during this week’s theme, “The Path to the Civil War.”

Price is a professor of history and director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor.

He is the author of many publications that explore African-American history, race relations and modern culture in the U.S. and in New Jersey, including two books: Freedom Not Far Distant: A Documentary History of Afro-Americans in New Jersey and Many Voices, Many Opportunities: Cultural Pluralism & American Arts Policy.

Price said he is looking forward to his first visit to Chautauqua and said his lecture will be inspired by the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

“I will seek to locate within the Civil War our observations of it, what we now know about what the war was to African-Americans’ history, and the extent to which African-Americans were deeply involved not only in the war, but in the formation of the war and what it represented,” he said.

Price also said he would like to suggest that if the nation would fully appreciate how the war mattered in certain terms, “there would be significant steps in improving race relations in the U.S.”

Price will refer to his first book, Freedom Not Far Distant: A Documentary History of Afro-Americans in New Jersey. He said that New Jersey was one of the northern states that was very reluctant to get caught up in the higher meaning of the Civil War.

“The state fought against Lincoln in 1860 and 1864, and yet New Jersey is sending men and boys off to fight,” he said. “It is one of the ironies.”

In 1981, along with Giles R. Wright of the New Jersey Historical Commission, Price founded the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, which is one of the nation’s foremost scholarly programs devoted to the advancement of the historical literacy of a local community. Marion Thompson Wright was a noted historian of African-Americans in New Jersey and was the first black historian to receive a doctorate from Columbia University. During Black History Month, this series creates a forum for writers, scholars and communities to engage with one another. It is one of the nation’s oldest lecture series during this time of recognition.

“I started it to make sure history would not get lost in the shuffle of Black History Month,” Price said.

This series helps keep Wright’s memory alive by supporting the educational aspect, not entertainment.

“In many ways, Black History Month has become American History Month,” Price said.

He said the series now embodies the patronage of a rich cross-section of intergenerational people, white and black, suburb and city, students and workers.

“They all gather the third Saturday of February to hear an ‘old-school’ lecture series give academically grounded papers to a lay audience,” Price said. “It has touched deeply on what we now know as the nature of the American public.”

According to an official biography, Price is a member of the Scholars Advisory Committee of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He was named CASE Professor of the Year for New Jersey in 1999 in reference to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. A Rutgers graduate, he was inducted into the Rutgers University Hall of Distinguished Alumni in April 2006.

Price has played leadership roles with many organizations in New Jersey, including the New Jersey Historical Commission, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Fund for New Jersey, the Newark public schools, the Newark Black Film Festival and the Governor’s Commission on Ellis Island, which since being disbanded has been turned into a foundation. President Barack Obama recently appointed Price as vice chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.