July 6, 1947 — May 2, 2023
Alfred D. Price Jr. ’69 *75 had hit a roadblock in his dissertation. His case of writer’s block was so bad he didn’t think he could go on. He cried as he told this to Julian Wolpert, his Princeton adviser, who deduced that Price — after a lifetime of school — was simply afraid to graduate “and leave the bosom of the academy.”
As Price told the tale decades later, “The absurdity of it all hit me in the face and I laughed though my tears. Julian said, ‘Look, Al, your thesis is fine. It is interesting work, it needs to be done, and you’re the best person to do it. Now go home, get to work, and just stick with it.’”
Price completed the paper and in 1975 became the first Black student at Princeton to earn master’s degrees in architecture and urban planning. (He had earned his undergraduate degree in 1969 as one of 16 Black students in a class of 827.) And then Price did go home, to Buffalo. After all, that dissertation was about a public housing model for post-industrial cities, with his hometown serving as the case study.
He told this story upon his retirement from the University at Buffalo, in 2019, when he gave what was billed as his last lecture before a packed hall of colleagues, students, and former students. He was a beloved professor of urban planning at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning for 42 years. For him, academics was never about theory and always about making cities better places to live — his city, in particular.
As Buffalo celebrated Price as a great teacher, he publicly thanked many of his own great teachers from long ago. They included Hanno Weber ’59 *61, one of his Princeton professors, who had taught him an important lesson about public housing: “Don’t design it if you wouldn’t live there yourself.”
“He found a way to blend his social-justice values with his expertise, and I admired him for that.”
— Enjoli Hall ’13
Before Price spoke that day, others spoke about him. Enjoli Hall ’13, who earned a master’s in urban planning at Buffalo, praised him as a brilliant scholar and astute practitioner in the Black intellectual tradition. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a certain orange bubble in New Jersey,” she added. “Before I was here at UB, like Professor Price, I was a Princeton Tiger.”
Says Hall in a recent interview with PAW: “I was excited to meet another Black Princeton alum from Buffalo who chose to come back, as I had. I didn’t think there was anyone else like me … . I told him I felt disconnected from Princeton. I told him I got the alumni magazine and never looked at it. And he said, ‘No, you have to look at it. You have to stay engaged.’”
Today Hall is working on her doctorate at MIT while living in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She visits Princeton to study in the library — and to stay engaged.
“Professor Price understood the nitty-gritty complexities of how to finance public housing and how to get things done in the real world,” Hall says. “He found a way to blend his social justice values with his expertise, and I admired him for that.”
The Rev. Canon Barbara Price accepted a posthumous award for her husband last fall from the Buffalo History Museum for his “quiet, continued, unbroken devotion to our civic progress.” She told the audience that night that her husband had turned down a fellowship to Harvard Law School to go back to Princeton to study urban planning and architecture instead.
“He asked himself, ‘Who fixes cities?’ In his own words, he reported, ‘My answer (however inaccurate I now realize in hindsight it was): architects!’ … Al had a deep commitment to the ‘public practice’ of architecture.”
Price concluded his last lecture by recalling that he’d always ended his undergraduate classes with a bit of poetry, “partly because one day I was walking across the Princeton campus” and came upon a passage from the poet William Carlos Williams inked onto the fence at a construction site.
Price then shared these lines from T.S. Eliot. It was his final act as a professor — leaving, at last, the bosom of the academy.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Erik Brady is a freelance reporter based in Arlington, Virginia.