Spirit of Rowan 2022: J.C. Price’s legacy still felt today
Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2022
Even though Salisbury activist Joseph Charles Price died at the early age of 39, his impact in the community continues to be felt today.
And without him, there may not be the Livingstone College we know today, says J.C. Price American Legion Post Commander Ollie “Mae” Carroll.
Price was a Black educator, orator and civil rights leader born in Elizabeth City in 1854 to a free mother, Emily Pailin, and a slave father, Charles Dozier. When Dozier was sold and sent to Baltimore, Price’s mother married David Price and passed along the surname. The family moved to New Bern during the Civil War, where Price enrolled in St. Andrews School. Less than a decade later, Price would go on to teach at a Black school in Wilson before resuming his own education. He set out to study law at Shaw University in Raleigh before transferring to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to study ministry in the AME Zion Church, a Black church established in the late 1700s.
Soon after his ordination, and at the age of 28, he worked with AME Zion Church and members of the Salisbury community to establish Livingstone College and served as its first president. The school was originally called Zion Wesley College but was changed to honor African explorer and missionary David Livingstone in 1885.
Price’s impact extended beyond Salisbury and North Carolina as he would soon be recognized on a national scale. In 1888, then-President Grover Cleveland asked Price to serve as minister to Liberia, though Price declined because he said he felt he could do more for his people by remaining in Salisbury. Two years later, he was elected president of both the Afro-American League and the National Equal Rights Convention and named chairman of the Citizens’ Equal Rights Association, though conflict among those groups would soon lead to their end.
Fast forward more than two centuries, and local American Legion Post 107 named in Price’s honor continues to uphold his legacy. It was first established in 1922, with the Joseph Charles Price Post Auxillary organized in 1934. One particular effort Carroll says would make Price proud is the establishment of an at-risk school in 1986, a partnership with Livingstone College. Carroll said 12 computers were donated for the school that operated for several years and included both Black and white instructors.
“Nobody had ever seen anything like this (at the time),” Carroll said. “We changed the whole atmosphere and came up with something that J.C. Price would be proud of, I feel.”
Though funding and decreasing membership and participation has prevented the Legion from hosting a number of annual events, about 48 plaques on the walls of the building located at 1433 Old Wilkesboro Road highlight impacts made across decades. Legion members continue to provide scholarships for students attending Boys State and Girls State, for example. Additionally, they annually host an Easter Egg hunt and Christmas festivities and participate in small projects to honor Memorial Day week like feeding local students. The Legion Post also donates annually to the Central Children’s Home in Oxford, and the United Negro College Fund.
“It’s nothing to the magnitude of what we used to do, but we do choose a small project during Memorial week,” Carroll said.
In 2009, the Legion Post made history when its queen, Ticora Jones, took the crown during Faith’s Fourth of July celebration. She was the first and only Black woman to be recognized with such honor, Carroll said.
In 2010, the J.C. Price High School was recognized as a landmark in the National Register of Historic Places. The school closed in 1969 and was the first one established for Black students in Salisbury. Members of a national alumni association with chapters spanning several states continue to raise money for scholarships and keep the school alive despite challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If it hadn’t been for him, we may not have Livingstone College,” Carroll said. “He gave us a great foundation.”