Clement Price and African and African American History
Clement Price founded the Marion Thompson-Wright lecture series in 1980, a series that in time gained the attention of large numbers of academics. Nowhere else in the country, over decades, did first-class scholars lecture while not talking down to listeners from the community as during the Thompson-Wright lecture at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. The absence of a divide between scholars and others owed much to Clement Price’s way of relating to his own students in history classes at Rutgers in the 1970s. It was a time of especially smart students from whom Price was known at times to take advice, even altering reading lists at the suggestion of very bright students who were reading widely. Some of those students have since been in the audience for Thompson-Wright lectures. Consequently, part of the initial impulse that led Price to look for cutting-edge scholarship continued with the Thompson-Wright series to make it perhaps the most distinguished lecture series directed by African Americans in the 20th century. That was my conclusion sometime after Clem and Giles Wright, Jr., his impressive collaborator, launched the series in 1980.
For a while, however, I had concluded that Chicago’s Amistad Society, which I headed, had something of an edge not only because we invited an array of talented artists and scholars to address Chicago audiences but helped design the curriculum of the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964. Work with the Summer Project, a singular honor, I once thought had earned us an edge. In time, however, I realized that the social justice issues taken up by the civil rights movement had long been central to Clem’s life. Moreover, such issues were represented by many in the sophisticated audiences that numbered as many as one thousand on the Marion Thompson-Wright day in Newark. Indeed, Clem continued teaching by relating the movement to relevant scholarship over the entire course of the lecture series. When I said to David Roediger, at the time Distinguished Professor of History at the U. of Illinois, “You are certain to be invited to participate in the Marion Thompson-Wright lecture seri es,” the response was, “I’ve already been invited.”
While a far more detailed treatment of the Thompson-Wright lecture series is merited, we know that the Amistad Society promoted African American and African history from 1960 to 1964. In February 2015, the Marion Thompson-Wright lecture series will be in its thirty-fifth year. There is no other lecture series of such quality and reach in America.
-Sterling Stuckey, Professor Emeritus of History U. of California, Riverside, California