by Rachel Eskin Fisher
I first met Professor Clement Price in 2011, when Rachel Pasternak and I interviewed him for our documentary about civil rights activist and Newark rabbi Joachim Prinz. Clem (as he insisted everyone call him) was an important voice in the creation of the film, and, once we completed the film, its most vocal supporter. I’ll never forget Clem’s response at the documentary’s premier at NJPAC in November 2013. He approvingly responded to Rabbi Prinz’s words out loud, so that sitting next to Clem that night felt something like being at church.
I think Prinz’s story resonated so deeply with Clem in part because the two men shared some essential, and rare, qualities. They both embodied deeply spiritual, neighborly love. They were both, as I’ve heard Dr. Cornel West describe himself, realists and, at the same time, “prisoners of hope.” They were both committed to building mutual understanding and support between groups with different social identities. (See the article on Prinz that we co-authored with Clem.)
Clem and Prinz, in their different eras, each brought to the table what I think is the crucial element in inter-ethnic group relationships: self-esteem and a secure, unshakeable identity. Prinz said of himself at a young age, “I had found my identity. I was a Jew; I belonged to the Jewish people.” Clem, too, knew who he was and to whom he belonged.
Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Director Emerita of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, said at a memorial for Clem, “He loved his people. And he loved them without hate for anyone else.” Clem created open spaces and moments centered on Black people, Black culture and history, never compromising his own point of view.
In Newark, Clem accomplished the goal that James Baldwin had set for himself when he left the U.S. for France: “I wanted to find out in what way the specialness of my experience could be made to connect me with other people instead of dividing me from them.” Of Prinz, a younger rabbi once said that he was “the man we would all most like to be.” I say the same of Clem. His memory is a blessing.