African American Education Spotlight Series: Joseph Charles Price

This month we are highlighting our African American Education Digital Collection in celebration of Black History Month. Currently, this collection contains materials from the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum as well as materials from the Division of Negro Education of the Department of Public Instruction.

Today’s post features Joseph Charles Price: black educator, orator, and civil rights leader. Price established Livingstone College in 1882 (originally established as Zion Wesley Institute) in Salisbury, North Carolina and served as its first president.

Price School

A photograph of Salisbury’s J. C. Price High School. This photo was taken for the Sesquicentennial International Exposition in 1926. The school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Division of Negro Education. Public Instruction Records. State Archives of North Carolina.


As an educator, Price is said to have sought to educate the whole man; his hands, his head, and his heart.

Price began his career in education as a teacher at a public school in Wilson in 1871. He chose to enroll in classes at Shaw University in Raleigh in 1875 to further his studies and later transferred to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a classical studies degree in 1879 and a degree in theology in 1881.

Later that year, Price was chosen as a delegate to the A.M.E. Ecumenical Conference in London, where he remained for a year. During his time abroad, Price toured Europe and spoke to crowds regarding the poor conditions and inadequate access to education for African Americans in the South while raising money for the Zion Wesley Institute. He returned to North Carolina the following year after raising $10,000, which was then used to open Zion Wesley Institute, renamed Livingstone College in 1885 after African missionary David Livingstone.

At a convention of black educators in 1886, the North Carolina Teachers Association (now the North Carolina Association of Educators), of which Price was an officer, petitioned the governor for funds to establish a college for black youth, which was strongly opposed in the legislature. Soon after, the Second Morrill Act was passed and prohibited federal funds to states with segregated educational systems unless at least one land-grant college for African Americans was established. At the risk of losing funding for their newly established white agricultural and mechanical college in Raleigh (NC State University), this led the state to create a publicly funded college for African Americans. Thus, on March 9, 1891, the General Assembly ratified “An act to establish an agricultural and mechanical college for the colored race” (Chapter 549). This school eventually became North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro.

In 1888, President Grover Cleveland offered Price the appointment of United States Minister of Liberia, but Price opted to continue serving the people of North Carolina instead. In 1890, Price was elected president of both the Afro-American League and the National Equal Rights Convention and named chairman of the Citizens’ Equal Rights Association.

Price was included on a list of “ten greatest negroes” in 1890 in an issue of The Freeman, the nation’s first illustrated colored newspaper.

freeman1890_2

Front page of the September 20, 1890 issue of The Freeman. Price, center, was listed as one of “Ten Greatest Negroes” in history.

Price died at the age of thirty-nine from Bright’s Disease, but served as the inspiration for many to continue fighting for the right to education for African Americans. A 1948 issue of Our State Magazine also celebrated Price for being “as eloquent as he was wise,” and a “powerful influence for good.” In an address by James E. Mason, Price, who was “born during the dark and starless night of slavery, yet rising superior to his environments,” was regarded as a leading force; “like a brilliant meteor, he flashed upon us and then disappeared below the horizon, but like the eternal stars, he still shines on.”

“I do not care how dark the night; I believe in the coming of the morning.” – Joseph Charles Price

This series will continue next Tuesday, when we will learn more about the history of African American education in North Carolina.


Related Resources

Founder and first president: Dr. Joseph Charles Price (1854-1893). Retrieved from http://www.livingstone.edu/about-livingstone-college/founder

Inscoe, John. (1994). Price, Joseph Charles. NCpedia. Retrieved from https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/price-joseph-charles

Justesen, Benjamin R. (2006). North Carolina Teachers Association. NCPedia. Retrieved from https://www.ncpedia.org/north-carolina-teachers-association

Mobley, Joe A. Black North Carolinians at the turn of the century. Retrieved from https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/session-four-late-19thearly-20th-century

Wadelington, Charles W. (2006). Livingstone College. NCPedia. Retrieved from https://www.ncpedia.org/livingstone-college