Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. today dedicated a bronze plaque honoring the life and legacy of the late Dr. Clement Alexander Price, the late Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University in Newark, Newark’s Official Historian and Chairman of the City’s 350th Anniversary Committee. The plaque is located in the Essex County Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Park next to the Essex County Historic Courthouse to raise awareness about Dr. Price’s contributions to Newark and Essex County. He was a resident of Newark when he died on November 5, 2014, at the age of 69.
“Dr. Price had such a tremendous knowledge of Newark’s history and understanding about the city’s identity. His insight made the history of our city and county come alive and always put into perspective from where the city had come and to where it was going,” DiVincenzo said. “During the renovation of the Historic Courthouse and the restoration of the Seated Lincoln Statue, Dr. Price’s input was invaluable in helping us put together the pieces of these historical treasures. He was a great advocate and cheerleader for Newark and a great friend who was always willing to help,” he added.
“I would like to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts and memories of Clement. He was a teacher, scholar, lover of cities and public spaces, and loved this Historic Courthouse very much,” said his wife, Mary Sue Sweeney Price. “I know he would have loved having his legacy celebrated and remembered in this way,” she added.
“I would like to thank the County Executive for honoring my brother in this way,” James L. Price, Jr. said. “Clement spent decades learning everything there is to know about Newark and the City in turn made him their hero. You don’t hear of things like that too often,” he added.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka spoke of the long discussions he had with the Newark historian and the information from books, articles and e-mails that he shared. “He was a public historian and who always had the best interests of the City at heart,” the Mayor said.
Different facets of Mr. Price’s life were represented, with friends and colleagues from Newark and Washington, DC, sharing stories and talking about his impact on the city.
Speakers included KIinshasha Holman Conwill, Deputy Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; Marcia Wilson Brown, Esq., Vice Chancellor of External and Governmental Affairs at Rutgers-Newark; Mark Krasovic, Interim Director of the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience; Ralph Izzo, Chairman, President and CEO of PSE&G; Barbara Bell Coleman, Co-Chair of the Branch Brook Park Alliance; Wilma Gray, Director of the Newark Public Library; and family friend Gloria Hopkins Buck. Rev. M. William Howard, Jr., Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, gave the invocation; Mark Beckett, teacher at Essex County West Caldwell Campus, sang the National Anthem, and the Brick City Jazz Ensemble performed during the program.
The plaque begins with a quote from a traditional Negro spiritual: “Oh, what a beautiful city, twelve gates to the City, Hallelujah.” It continues: “Although born in Washington, D.C., there is no scholar more noted for an association with, and an appreciation of, the City of Newark, than Clement Alexander Price. He was City Historian and Chairman of its 350th Anniversary Celebration – a perfect choice for a man who taught at Rutgers-Newark, wrote extensively about the city in which he lived, narrated a documentary about it and championed it at every opportunity. He also led President Obama’s National Endowment for the Humanities transition team and served as Vice Chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. He taught and wrote about a broad span of historic and cultural topics and was co-founder of the annual Marion Thomas Wright Lecture Series, funded through his establishment of the Clement Price Endowment for the Humanities. He made the history of our city and county come alive, putting into perspective from whence the city had come and pointing to where it might ideally go. Always a gentleman, always willing to help, we know that when others write of Newark’s history, they will include a chapter about our friend.”
Dr. Price was a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History at Rutgers University-Newark Campus and served as the director of the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience. In 2014, he was named the Official Historian for the City of Newark and was considered to be the foremost authority on the black New Jersey past through his “Freedom Not Far Distant: A Documentary History of Afro-Americans in New Jersey” written in 1980, “Many Voices, Many Opportunities: Cultural Pluralism and American Arts Policy” written in 1994 and other numerous scholarly works. He was one of the founders and organizers of the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series at Rutgers-Newark, one of the nation’s oldest and prestigious conferences in observance of Black History Month in New Jersey.
He was appointed lead for the National Endowment for the Humanities on President Obama’s 2008 transition team and was reappointed by the President as vice chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. He was recently appointed Newark City Historian and Chairman of the 350th anniversary of Newark’s founding in 1666.
Dr. Price was a member of the Scholarly Advisory Committee to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, a member of the advisory council for the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a Trustee of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and former chairman of the Save Ellis Island Foundation and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
He received many awards for academic and community service, including The New Jersey Nets Basketball Black History Month Award at the Prudential Arena in Newark, New Jersey in 2011, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award from Essex County in 2010, a Lifetime Achievement Award from Local Initiatives Support Corporation in 2008 and New Jersey Professor of the Year by The Council for Advancement and Support of Education in 1999. In 2006, he was inducted into the Rutgers University Hall of Distinguished Alumni.
Born in Washington, DC, Price went to college at the University of Bridgeport, Conn., and came to Newark in the wake of the city’s infamous 1967 riots. He began studying Newark as a graduate student before becoming a teacher at Essex County College. He later moved to Rutgers-Newark, where he earned his Ph.D.
Surviving are his wife, Mary Sue Sweeney Price, retired Executive Director of the Newark Museum; his sister, Jarmila, and his brother, James.
Several buildings and open spaces in the Essex County Government Complex have been named after prominent people who have influenced the development of Essex County. The park next to the Historic Courthouse and statue in front of the Hall of Records honor Barringer High School graduate and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.; a plaza in front of the Essex County Veterans Courthouse and a statue honor Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks; the plaza in front of the LeRoy Smith Public Safety Building and a statue honor the late Congressman Donald M. Payne, who was the first African American Congressman in New Jersey; the plaza at the south entrance of the Veterans Courthouse and a statue honor former New Jersey Governor and Essex County Prosecutor Brendan Byrne; the plaza in the Essex County Veterans Memorial Park and a statue honor the late Jorge Oliveira, a 10-year veteran of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office who was killed while serving his country in Afghanistan. The Veterans Courthouse and the Essex County Veterans Memorial Park are named as a tribute to the men and women who have defended our country and freedoms while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The Essex County LeRoy F. Smith, Jr., Public Safety Building is named for LeRoy Smith, a Newark resident who served as Deputy Director of Emergency Medical Services for the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey for 38 years before retiring in 2007. In Brennan Park is a monument recognizing the late Charles Cummings, who served as the official Newark historian and librarian with the Newark Public Library for over 40 years. The plaza in front of the Historic Courthouse is named for former Essex County Prosecutor James Lordi. There are also bronze plaques in the promenade recognizing the late D. Bilal Beasley, Irvington City Councilman and Essex County Freeholder; the late Raymond Durkin, long-time Chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee and New Jersey Democratic Party; the late Philip Thigpen, Essex County Register and long-time Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman; the late Thomas Durkin, a prominent Essex County attorney; the late Lena Donaldson Griffith, a cultural arts and civil rights pioneer in Newark and Essex County; the late Raymond Brown, a civil rights leader and long-time attorney; and the late Superior Court Justice Thomas “Timmy” McCormack, who was one of the authors of the County’s current Administrative Code and Freeholder By-Laws.