Growing up in Mississippi at a time when Jim Crow laws relegated blacks to second-class citizens, Jim Price understood how barriers could hold down people and how education could lift them.
As the first African-American elected to the Rochester school board, his focus was clear: All children deserved a quality education no matter the color of their skin or their economic status.
“He represented all children but kept us aware on a daily basis of the children of color and of the students who might be struggling because of poverty,” said Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, who helped Price get elected to one of his three terms that spanned from 1991 to 2000. “He really made it a centerpiece in Rochester … that public education is for every single child. It’s a message that has endured.”
Price, who also served as pastor at Rochester Community Baptist Church, moved back to Mississippi after stepping down from the school board. He died Jan. 24 from brain cancer. He was 84.
Price grew up in Vicksburg, Miss., the second child in a family of six children. “He would talk about his life in the Jim Crow South,” said Carol Carryer, who served with Price on the school board. “He talked about walking to segregated schools in poor, dumpy buildings with used textbooks with no covers on them. The white kids rode buses.”
Like others in his family, Price left the South in search of a better life, said his cousin, Charlie Tolliver. “The South was the South. Black folks could only do what black folks were allowed to do and that was minimal,” he said. Price moved north, first to Chicago and eventually to Minnesota, where he got a master’s degree in counseling and completed the course work for a doctorate.
During Price’s first school board campaign, Norton listened to a debate in which “no one could hold a candle to him,” she recalled. He cared deeply about education, she said.
He insisted elected leaders be accessible to the people they serve. “He would say, you need to go to people where they are and speak the language they understand,” Norton said. “He was a kind, quiet, gentle man with strong feelings that he was able to share in ways that you could hear.”
Those lessons helped Norton be a better leader, she said.
Price inspired people to embrace diversity.
“He said people need to know that we’re all the same,” said George Thompson, former director of the Rochester Diversity Council. “We all want the same things for our kids, which is an opportunity for education and jobs.”
Those who served alongside Price remember him as one of the board’s most respected and influential members, someone who could bring people together. When he spoke, people listened. His beautiful golden, rich voice commanded attention, said Jack Noennig, who was superintendent of Rochester schools from 1995 to 2000.
Price was a preacher whose Sunday sermons often ran long, whose love for catfish was immense and whose desire to see the best in people was a constant.
“He saw something in everybody,” Tolliver said. “He encouraged people to be their best.”
He once said he thought he might be overbearing, Tolliver recalled. “I didn’t see that. I saw someone who could take charge but at the same time give you the room to do what you needed to do.”
Price is survived by his wife, Doris; daughter Jerica Lynn Price and son James; a stepson, Douglas Pittman, all of Clinton, Miss.; and brothers Dennis and John Henry, both of Los Angeles, and Charlie of San Francisco. Services have been held.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788