Clem's sudden death at the age of 69 was not only a personal shock, but also a profound loss to the city he loved so deeply.
He was always my go-to guy for Newark stories and when I told him that I was assigned to write his profile, he took me on one of his famous driving tours of Newark. We drove past where the 1967 riots began, then visited the sites of historic synagogues that were now churches. Every so often we got out of the car for an up close view of a landmark.
We stopped for lunch at Vesuvius on Bloomfield Avenue, once a famous dining spot of political boss Anthony Imperiale in the 1970s. Clem told me about Imperiale’s idea to start SPONGE, an acronym for “The Society for the Prevention of Negroes Getting Everything.” If Price thought it offensive, he didn’t let Imperiale know. Getting to know the boss was a process, he said. “Over time, his views softened. That’s what happens when people sit down and listen to each other,” said Clem. That is my favorite quote in the story and speaks to the wisdom of the man.
A few weeks later I accompanied Clem to Westside High School on South Orange Avenue, ranked 313th out of 316 public high schools in New Jersey. Clem was asked to give the commencement address. Walking through the halls of the school, I saw that he was no stranger to both teachers and students as he stopped every few steps to greet someone or give one of his famous hugs.
Long after the story was publised, I found myself sitting in Clem's class late one night. My daughter, Sam, a Rutgers–Newark student, had taken his “History of Newark” course. Clem had invited Newark Mayor Cory Booker to lecture, and I sat in the back for the civic lesson. Later, Sam interviewed Clem for a paper she was writing on the Newark Library system. He couldn’t have been more cooperative and insightful. She, too, learned firsthand how special he was.
I’ve talked to a lot of advocates for Newark through the years, and I've found no one more committed to the city’s renaissance than Clem and his wife, Mary Sue Sweeney Price, former executive director of the Newark Museum. Clem’s Marion Thompson Wright lecture series, annually sponsored in February by his Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, still draws the top scholars in the nation.
I love the simplicity of this great cover photo, taken by Bill Ballenberg on the steps of Clem and Mary Sue’s Central Ward brownstone, across from Lincoln Park and the equestrian statue of the Italian soldier of fortune, Bartolomeo Colleoni. Fitting, I’d say, because Clem—in every sense—is Newark’s soldier of fortune.
Newark's Soldier of Fortune