Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

126 EDUCATION AND THE PROBLEM

Joseph C. Price

Virtually forgotten today, Joseph C. Price was once internationally celebrated as an orator, organizational leader, and educator. In The Negro in American History ( 1914), John Cromwell ventured that "it is doubtful if the nineteenth century produced a superior or more popular orator of the type that enlists the sympathies, entertains and compels conviction."*W. E. B. Du Bois, who as a college student heard Price lecture in Boston's Tremont Temple, pronounced him "the acknowledged orator of his day" and wrote in the Crisis in 1922: "I like to think of Joseph C. Price, tall, of superb physique, and of Unmixed African Blood, as the epitome of his country's nationalistic characteristic." After Price's untimely death at the age of thirty-nine, Frederick Douglass lamented that "the race has lost its ablest advocate."

Price was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on February 10, 1854. Although his father was enslaved, his mother was free, and he followed her status. After teaching himself to read and write, Price entered school at the age of twelve. He briefly attended Shaw University in Raleigh in 1873, then, after religious conversion, entered Lincoln University to prepare for the ministry. He captured every major oratorical prize at Lincoln, graduated as valedictorian in 1879, and completed the classical program two years later.

Price rose to regional prominence as an eloquent delegate to the General Conference of the A.M.E. Zion Church in 1880 and in the North Carolina prohibition campaign the following year. In 1881, as a delegate to the World's Ecumenical Conference of Methodism, held in London, he delivered an unscheduled speech from the floor that created a sensation. Dubbed "The World's Orator" by the British press, he embarked upon a speaking tour of Britain in the weeks following the London conference and raised the eleven thousand dollars necessary to found Zion Wesley College (later Livingstone) in Salisbury, North Carolina. He served as Livingstone's president until his death of Bright's disease in 1893.

Price successfully appealed to both white and black, southern and northern, conservative and more militant audiences. In January 1890, Price was elected national president of the Afro-American League at its founding convention in Chicago. One month later, at the convention of the rival Equal Rights League in Washington, he was elected chairman

____________________
W. E. B. Du Bois, "An Estimate of Joseph C. Price," Crisis 23 ( March 1922), 225.
"Progressive Review," A. M.E. Zion Quarterly Review 4 ( 1894), 184.
John W. Cromwell, The Negro in American History( Washington, D.C.: American Negro Academy, 1914), 171.

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