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Captain Charles Price Remembered as a “Community Treasure”

Staff report

Pauline and Charles Price in 2014 at the Black Heritage Gala hosted by Trinity Emmanuel Presbyterian Church. Photo provided by the Price family.

Charles Price had a career of firsts.

In 1947, he became the first Black officer for the Rochester Police Department. In 1962, he was promoted to detective and later was named detective lieutenant. In 1974, he was promoted to captain.

“Here’s the beautiful thing about Charlie,” said former Mayor William Johnson. “He didn’t really dwell on that. He didn’t go around wearing a sign saying ‘I was the first Black police officer.’ He was proud to be a member of the Rochester Police Department.”

Over his 38-year career, Captain Price was described as a role model to his colleagues and a friend to the community he served.

“He was really a community treasure,” Johnson said.

“The big thing was, he was just a gentleman,” said retired Capt. Lynde Johnston. “He’d walk in a room and you’d know somebody walked into the room. He was a remarkable, remarkable man.”

From his military service to his community service, Capt. Price touched lives and hearts. Capt. Price died May 17 at the age of 98.

Capt. Price will lie in state from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 21 at Trinity Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, 9 Shelter St. The funeral, scheduled for 10 a.m. May 22, is private.

Capt. Charles Price. Provided by Price family.

Capt. Price served as commander of the Genesee Section for three years. In 1981, he was lauded for bravery as he and two other officers received the department’s Medal of Valor for rescuing a wounded officer during a hostage situation at a bank on Thurston Road.

The remembrances from “official” Rochester were many and heartfelt, recalling his compassion and his leadership.

Here is a personal reflection of Capt. Price from Tina Chapman DaCosta, a friend to both him and his late wife, Pauline.

Remembering Charles “Chuck” Price, from Tina Chapman DaCosta

Charles Price and Pauline Price, I called them my play father and mother. Pauline left us last year, July 5, 2020. Chuck passed Monday morning, May 17, 2021. He was 98 years young, and it was their 69th wedding anniversary.

When my son Aaron called me to offer comfort, he said, “Maybe there is some say in how we go and when we go. Chuck may have said, ‘I’m not going to miss an anniversary with my wife.’” I was able to laugh a bit so I added, “And knowing Pauline, she said, ‘It’s about time,’” and Aaron added another possible Pauline response, “Chuck, I didn’t know if you were coming.” Chuck would have just “shook his head and smiled.” That was them, a sweet and spicy couple. Just thinking about Chuck and Pauline being together again dried up some of my sadness.

He called her Mrs. Rockefeller because she had discriminating taste we often teased her about, and he was our local and national hero.

Chuck, as Pauline affectionately called him and we followed suit, was Rochester’s first African American police officer and first African American police captain, during a time of civil unrest and systemic discrimination – red-lining practices in financial mortgage lending, overpolicing, and urban renewal – that decimated a once thriving downtown neighborhood, the Third Ward. Clarissa Street, known as “Rochester’s Broadway,” was a main thoroughfare that connected The Third Ward to Main Street. The Clarissa Street neighborhood was the home of Rochester’s first Black physician, professor, dentist, minister, grocery store, funeral home, and newspaper. It was the home of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) before moving to Henrietta and Chuck’s childhood home. I learned these things from Chuck, aka Captain Price, when he was in his 80s, sharp as a tack, a walking database of Rochester’s vibrant history. He had artifacts, books, records, and a memory that recounted events as clear as a movie. Everyone doing research on Rochester’s history found their way to Chuck.

I met Chuck through his wife, Pauline, and later through my husband Jose DaCosta. Pauline and I were members of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church for many years. However, I got to know Pauline better and her husband Chuck at the 2005 Taste of Jazz, an annual Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority dinner and dance fundraiser.

Tina Chapman DaCosta, Charles Price in Buffalo Soldier regalia, and Jose DaCosta. Provided by Tina Chapman DaCosta

Jose and I had just begun dating and it was our first public date around mutual friends. I was standing in the buffet table line chatting with Pauline and Chuck when Jose joined me. Unbeknownst to me, he knew Pauline and Chuck from the Jazz Cruise vacations, and he was surprised to learn that Pauline knew me. Pauline loved to tell the story of Jose’s reaction. She would say, “Jose came up to us and said in a loud voice, “You know Tina? You knew I was looking for somebody, and you didn’t introduce me to Tina?” We all got a big laugh out of it, and the four of us became good friends and travel buddies. We all hit it off so well despite our age differences — me in my 40s, Jose in his 60s, and Pauline and Chuck in their 80s. We went on vacations together, the Jazz Cruises, my birthday trip to Brazil, their vacation time share in Florida, and many weekends spent at their cottage on the bay.

During these times, Chuck piqued my interest in Rochester’s history. Chuck taught me about the Pythodd Room, and I made my first documentary film about it when I was in film school at RIT, “Remembering the Pythodd.” Chuck told me stories about the Mangione brothers, Gap and Chuck, and how they would try and enter The Pythodd Room, although under age. Officer Price would call Papa Mangione first.

Chuck told me about the businesses that were on Clarissa Street, Rochester’s Black Broadway. His oral history and artifacts became key components in another RIT related project. My College of Liberal Arts colleagues and I curated a museum exhibit entitled “Resistance, Rebellion, and Renewal: Stories of Progress and Poverty in Rochester NY.” We displayed several of his artifacts and invited Chuck and Pauline to speak at one of our auxiliary events. During this time, another connection was made. One of my colleagues discovered his father knew Officer Price as a teenager on Chuck’s beat. The father remembered Officer Price because Price helped him overcome what could have been a devastating event in the young teenager’s life. Chuck, Rochester’s first Black police officer, showed compassion to a young white teenage boy during a pivotal time in his life. My colleague was instrumental in creating a reunion between the two men about a year later. Chuck was like that. Pauline said he never wrote a ticket. Officer Price wanted to help people.

Charles Price, center, coached actors Brian Hewitt, left, and Emmett Michie in Tina Chapman DaCosta’s film Brick by Brick. Provided by Tina Chapman DaCosta

Chuck served on my MFA Thesis Committee when I was getting my master’s degree in Film and Animation at RIT. My thesis was writing a feature film script about my father’s life. My father and Chuck were born in 1922 and 1923 respectively, and both served as Tuskegee Airmen in WWII with the U.S. Army Air Corp in the 1940s, Chuck as an intelligence officer and my father as a defense contractor hired as an air plane mechanic from Wright Patterson Air Field in Ohio.

Chuck’s knowledge of the times, details about Tuskegee, and being a police officer, helped me greatly in representing authenticity in my film script. Who else could tell me which plane parts were problematic, or that farmers used to shoot at their planes when flying over fields in the U.S., or what it was like the night General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.’s plane was arriving after they had closed down the landing field. They had to quickly light the landing field with their vehicles.

Chuck also told me why people carried razors and not knives, because the police couldn’t arrest a man for carrying a personal hygiene item. Chuck also came on set and worked with my actors to help them portray authentic police officers in the 1940s. Brick by Brick won best short at the San Diego Black Film Festival and was nominated for an Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2020. The film is also part of RIT Student Affairs’ freshmen class diversity and inclusion education experience.

Chuck never said no when asked to share his vast knowledge and experiences, not to me, RIT, the Clarissa Street Reunion Committee, or Rochester youth like Teen Empowerment. He was a regular speaker at schools, a longtime member of the Pennington-Moye VFW Post, Kiwanis Club (Governor Southwest Rochester), Trinity Emmanuel Presbyterian Church and recipient of many distinguished awards.

Tina Chapman DaCosta

It will take another 98 years to fully tell Chuck’s amazing life and contributions to Rochester and the United States. I’m looking forward to the attempts.

Thank you, Chuck, for your love, service, and shared joy. Thank you for your daughters, Renee and Charlene, and the love and wisdom you and Pauline passed on to them. Thank you for loving Jose and me and sharing so much with us and our children.

But we know when Mrs. Rockefeller calls, you have to come. Enjoy your spirit lives together. Amen.