Rutgers University professor Clement Price, a historian and civic leader who maintained close ties with New Jersey’s Jewish community, died Nov. 5.
His death came three days after he suffered a stroke at a theater in North Brunswick after he served as a presenter at the Rutgers Jewish Film Festival. He was 69 years old.
Price was stricken in the theater lobby after he made a presentation at a screening of the documentary Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent. Prinz, a rabbi from Berlin, became a Newark Jewish community leader, civil rights activist, and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Price’s contributions to the Jewish community were hailed by leaders who worked with him on a broad range of activities — many of which established links with Newark’s African-American population.
Rabbi Clifford Kulwin of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston knew Price for many years, but developed a particularly close relationship with him during the past year, because of Price’s interest in the Prinz documentary. Prinz was a predecessor of Kulwin’s at B’nai Abraham.
“I think his interest in the Jewish community had to do with his love of Newark, because Jewish history is an integral part of Newark’s history,” Kulwin told NJ Jewish News in a Nov. 7 interview. “He sought to bring together the various communal, religious, ethnic, and social strands of society. He was warm, insightful, and relentlessly optimistic.”
In an e-mailed statement, the Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ called Price “a great friend and partner to the Jewish community who did much of his work and spoke publicly on blacks and Jews in the city of Newark…. He was a bridge builder and understood the importance of diverse communities to Newark, past and present.
“Dr. Price strongly believed that African-Americans and Jews need to understand their historical relationship, develop new agendas to address the needs of both communities, and work as partners side-by-side for the American ideals of pluralism and equality,” said the CRC.
Allyson Gall, who served as executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s NJ region between 1998 and 2011, told NJJN in an e-mail, “I will forever recall his big heart, big brain, and his big smile. He just always was a bridge builder…, comfortable taking Jews into Newark for a Jewish tour of Newark, and yet also diplomatically and honestly, he talked about the flight from Newark of Jews in the ’60s and the riots that precipitated that flight.”
Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold of Livingston told NJJN, “Clem was a unique individual. He was interested in having a good relationship with the Jewish community because he was interested in having a good relationship with everybody, and he did.”
In 1990, Price “was at the birth” of the Jewish Historical Society of NJ where he was a charter member and served on its professional advisory committee, said executive director Linda Forgosh.
He also cosponsored many events with the society. “He arranged for us to feature our traveling exhibit on Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, ‘Born at the Beth,’ in the lobby of the main building of the Rutgers Newark campus.”
In 1994, Price served as the keynote speaker at the JHS’s annual meeting, where he talked about relationships between blacks and Jews in Newark.
“He asked us to contribute items from our archives to be included in the forthcoming African-American History Museum in Washington, DC. I thought Clem was one ‘helluva’ human being,” Forgosh said.
Both of New Jersey’s United States senators reacted promptly to the news of his passing.
“Newark has lost one of its great statesmen,” said Sen. Cory Booker in an e-mailed statement. “Clem Price was not only our leading historian but he was a powerful spiritual force in our state’s largest city. He helped us all learn, grow, heal, and come together — he was a chief architect of community unity and in so many ways helped create a Newark civic space that was more vibrant and more loving.”
“He was a celebrated historian, a distinguished educator, a passionate public intellectual, and an ardent champion of the arts,” wrote Sen. Robert Menendez. “Dr. Price had an unwavering commitment to community, stood for social justice, and helped us all understand the present and future through recognition of our cultural diversity and shared experience. He inspired many, and his loss will be profoundly felt.”
Price was born in Washington, DC, where his parents, James and Anna, helped him to develop his love for history.
He attended the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, then came to Newark for graduate work. He taught at Essex County College before earning his PhD at Rutgers.
Price’s public works extended far beyond his Newark classrooms. He was the founding director of Rutgers’ Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience; a former chair of the NJ State Council on the Arts; a trustee of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; president of the Newark Education Trust; chair of the Save Ellis Island Foundation; and a member of the Scholarly Advisory Committee to the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution.
In 2011, President Obama appointed Price vice chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and earlier this year, Price was named Newark’s official historian.
A wake for Price will be held at Bethany Baptist Church at 275 West Market St. in Newark on Thursday, Nov. 13. 2-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. His funeral will be held at the church the next day, Friday, at 11 a.m.
Price is survived by his widow, Mary Sue Sweeney, a former director of the Newark Museum; his sister, Jarmila; and his brother, James.
In lieu of flowers, his family is asking that donations be made to Rutgers University’s Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience.