by Bill Sweet
Hugh Price '63, a nonresident Senior Fellow for the Brookings Institution and former president of the National Urban League (1994-2003), recently donated numerous records from his multiple careers to the College's Archives and Special Collections at Frost Library.
After more than a half-century of working for the causes of racial justice and education, Price is saddened to see how much more work remains with these issues, but he is impressed with the new generation of activists and future policy makers.
Price said he decided to donate the papers to Amherst because of family ties to the College, and because of the opportunity to provide student and faculty researchers with unpublished material concerning the civil rights movement and other significant causes.
"I was dealing with police brutality, excessive use of deadly police force 50 years ago," he said. "It's important to understand for people who are researching this today, who are advocates today, to understand how the issues have evolved."
The donation includes papers dating back to the 1960s, covering numerous careers up through his stints with the National Urban League and the Brookings Institution.
In particular, there are documents that deal with Price's work with the civil rights and antipoverty movements.
- Correspondence (though only photocopies of the letters from Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush)
- Keynote speeches
- Strategic memos
- Newspaper and magazine articles
- Book manuscripts
- Position papers
- Recordings of television appearances
The summer after graduating from Amherst, he served as a marshal for the March On Washington. After earning a law degree from Yale in 1966, Price began his legal career representing poor clients in New Haven, Conn., later becoming the first executive director of the Black Coalition of New Haven.
Upon moving his family to New York City in 1978, he spent four years as an editorial writer for The New York Times, and then six years as senior vice president of WNET/Thirteen in New York, the nation’s largest public television station.
Appointed to the Rockefeller Foundation in 1988, he oversaw its domestic investments improving educational opportunities for minorities and at-risk youth.
Under his urging and consultation, the National Guard launched its Youth ChalleNGe Corps, a 22-week residential program conducted at selected U.S. military bases that teaches academic and life skills to high school dropouts. This program is the subject of Price's latest book, Strugglers Into Strivers, which argues that the social-emotional elements of the military model could help U.S. public schools.
Many of the papers are related to his days as president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League (1994 − 2003), the nation's oldest and largest community-based movement empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream.
Most recently he was a visiting professor in public and international affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School.
"I've had about 13 careers," he said. "One of the blessings of having had a lot of careers is you move offices a lot, and stuff gets boxed up. If you don't unbox it, it stays put."
"It's like offering a child for adoption," he said. "But I feel that's public space and public property."
At the Brookings Institution, the nation’s oldest think tank, he specializes in education, equal opportunity, civil rights and urban affairs.
Price received an honorary doctorate from Amherst in 1995.
Price credits his continually-evolving professional life to his Amherst education.
"Amherst made me curious about everything, and I tried to sate it," he said. "It gave me the confidence to try lots of different things, in a lot of very different fields."
Price has four generations of Amherst connections. His sister-in-law is the eldest daughter of Dr. Charles R. Drew '26 and his wife is niece of Dr. William Montague Cobb ’25. A nephew is Dr. Kendall Drew Price ’92 and a grandniece is Rachel Abernethy ’16.
"I guess I'd say Amherst owns a big piece of us, and we own a little piece of Amherst," he said.