“People who believe a problem can be solved tend to get busy solving it,” William Raspberry wrote in the Washington Post in July 1994. “Hugh B. Price is a believer.”
This comment on Price’s inaugural keynote address as head of the National Urban League proved prescient. During his tenure as president and CEO from 1994 to 2003, Price conceived and launched its Campaign for African-American Achievement, spearheaded pressure on the federal government to combat police brutality and racial profiling, vigorously defended affirmative action, and helped repair frayed relations between the black and Jewish communities. Yet his role with the League was just one among many for this impressive man.
In This African-American Life, Price traces his forbears, among them Nero Hawley, who fought at Valley Forge under George Washington; George and Rebecca Latimer, who escaped slavery by stowing away on a boat and traveling north as master and slave; and Lewis Latimer, who worked with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison and played a pivotal role in perfecting the light bulb.
Price writes about his childhood in a segregated neighborhood near Howard University in Washington, his love of baseball, and his student days in a newly integrated high school and then at Amherst and Yale Law School. He covers his varied and highly successful careers, from his early days as a legal services lawyer and director of the Black Coalition in New Haven, Connecticut, to his time as an editorial writer at the New York Times, as senior vice president in charge of national production at America’s largest public television station, as a vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation, and as a faculty member of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton.
“It’s easy to sound radical,” syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne wrote of Price. “By contrast, ideas built on cool reason and the possibility of action often sound moderate. But they can be genuinely radical in their analysis of what’s wrong and of what needs to be done.”