Charles Price did it on a dare.
It was 1947 and he was hanging out with friends one day when someone came in and told them the Rochester police department would not hire any black people.
“Most of us who were there were born and raised here and we said you’re full of crap,” Price remembers.
He and some of others marched to the station and took the necessary test.
“I was the only one, I said, ‘Oh God, stupid me,’ I had to take the job. I said I can’t go back on my word,” Price recounted.
That was the start of a career in RPD that lasted until 1985.
Price retired as a captain and is now 96 years old.
Adam sat down with him in the cafeteria at Rochester City School District’s School #4 where Price was volunteering last week.
Adam: What was it like to be part of the department at that time?
Price: Good and bad. They’d take you out on the street and give you a club and say, ‘You’re a policeman.’ No such thing as training. I didn’t have anybody I could go to and say, ‘Hey, what do I do?’ The Italian-Americans, they could go to some of the guys in the police department and talk to them, the Irish, the Germans and they all had little conclaves. I had nobody to go to. I asked some black officers from out of town for advice. (One said.) ‘You see those two fighting over. If it’s two white fellas you don’t touch them. If there’s two colored fellas over there you can touch them.’ I said, ‘What?! Here I am in Rochester, what do I do?’ That’s the way I had to handle it. And I couldn’t make a stink. If someone did so and so you couldn’t bring it up because they’d be like, ‘There he is, you made him an appointment and look what he’s doing right now.’
Adam: You saw a lot of change…
Price: It was a change, but it was a very slow change, very slow change. Just like the Army. The Army was segregated. 1948, Truman signed integration of the army. Took until 1952 to get done.
Adam: Speaking of the Army, you were part of the Tuskegee unit…
Price: Oh, people says yes. People ask me and I say, yes, OK… When I graduated from high school (in Rochester), it was a small class, most of the guys were white and were my best friends and we got together and said let’s join the United States Army Air Corps, there was no Air Force. We all wanted to be in the Air Corps with the silk scarf around our neck. (Price didn’t fly combat missions, but did learn to fly.) We used to hate the plane that was built right up here in Niagara Falls, the P-39. It was a Bell Airacobra they called it, but it had a gun that would shoot out of the propeller, but the only problem was the recoil came right down between your legs and the guys were always scared of that one … they didn’t like that one … it was a good plane, but we didn’t like it.
Adam: Why continue to volunteer in the schools?
Price: Something in my blood, I guess, I like to help the kids out. If I can help one kid out, I feel great. If I get 10, beautiful.
Adam: Do you feel like you do reach some of the kids?
Price: Some of them. Some of them. I’ve gone into stores and they’re like there’s Captain Price.
Adam: What do you think about the life that you’ve lived?
Price: I’m honored and happy to be able to walk up and down the streets today, but I’m happy. As I say, I get up in the morning. I don’t jump out of bed anymore, I have to roll out bed, but I get up and say, it’s another day.
Adam: Where do you get that enthusiasm to get up and help others?
Price: I don’t know. Somebody must be kicking me in the butt every day to keep me going.
(Price is married. His wife’s name is Pauline.)