Although Salisbury activist Joseph Charles Price died aged just 39, his impact on the community is still felt today.
And without him, Livingstone College might not be what we know today, says JC Price, post commander of the American Legion, Ollie “Mae” Carroll.
Price was a black educator, orator, and civil rights activist 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 on the surname. The family moved to New Bern during the Civil War, where Price enrolled at St. Andrews School. Less than a decade later, Price taught at a black school in Wilson before pursuing his own education. He began studying law at Shaw University in Raleigh before transferring to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to study ministry in the AME Zion Church, a black church founded in the late 17th century.
Shortly after his ordination and at age 28, he worked with the AME Zion Church and members of the Salisbury congregation to organize Livingstone College and served as its first president. The school was originally called Zion Wesley College but was changed in 1885 in honor of Africa explorer and missionary David Livingstone.
Price’s influence extended beyond Salisbury and North Carolina as he would soon be recognized nationally. In 1888 then-President Grover Cleveland asked Price to serve as Minister for Liberia, although Price declined because he said he could do more for his people if he stayed in Salisbury. Two years later he was elected president of both the African-American League and the National Equal Rights Convention and was appointed chairman of the Citizens’ Equal Rights Association, although conflicts between these groups would soon bring them to an end.
Fast forward more than two centuries, and the 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 achievement that Carroll says would make Price proud is the founding of a high-risk school in 1986, a partnership with Livingstone College. Carroll said 12 computers were donated to the school, which operated for several years and included both black and white teachers.
“Nobody had ever seen anything like it (at the time),” Carroll said. “We changed the whole atmosphere and came up with something that I think JC Price would be proud of.”
Although funding and reductions in membership and participation have prevented the Legion from hosting a number of annual events, some 48 plaques on the walls of the building at 1433 Old Wilkesboro Road highlight the impact made over decades. For example, Legion members continue to award scholarships to students attending Boys State and Girls State. In addition, they hold annual Easter egg hunts and Christmas parties, and participate in small projects to honor Memorial Day week such as: B. the nutrition of local students. The Legion Post also makes annual donations to the Central Children’s Home in Oxford and the United Negro College Fund.
“It’s nothing on the scale of what we’ve done before, but we decided to do a small project during Memorial Week,” Carroll said.
In 2009, Legion Post made history when its queen, Ticora Jones, took over the crown from Faith during the Fourth of July celebrations. She is the first and only black woman to receive such an honor, Carroll said.
In 2010, JC Price High School was recognized as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. The school closed in 1969 and was the first established for black students in Salisbury. Members of a national alumni association with chapters spanning multiple states continue to raise money for scholarships and keep the school alive despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Without him, we might not have Livingstone College,” Carroll said. “He gave us a great foundation.”