Hundreds of Evanstonians came to say good-bye Friday evening to the man generations of African-Americans called “Uncle Bo.” Allen “Bo” Price died May 1 after a long illness.
Friday’s memorial service was at First Church of God Christian Life Center. Burial took place Monday, May 11, at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, a military cemetery in Elwood, where he was laid to rest beside his wife of almost 60 years, Wilhelmenia Chancellor Price.
A lifelong resident of Evanston, Bo Price grew up on Darrow Avenue, one of ten kids in his family. By 1998, he had an honorary street named for him, Allen “Bo” Price Drive. It is part of Foster Street at Darrow, chosen because he dedicated much of his adult life to helping young people at Foster Field and the Foster Community Center, later renamed Fleetwood-Jourdain.
At one point the memorial service rang out with the voices of more than 60 former members of Uncle Bo’s drill teams as they sang out an impromptu cadence, “I knew a man with a funny chin. Took us ’round the world and back again.” The words probably refer to Uncle Sam, but in Evanston, it was Uncle Bo who took hundreds of local drill team members around the country — to Los Angeles, New Orleans and Miami to compete against the nation’s top contenders.
They won numerous state and national titles, but the titles were just gravy, Mr. Price often said, because what he was really aiming at was the self-discipline that teamwork and training instilled in his kids, an attribute that would help them the rest of their lives. Overall, he trained more than 2,000 girls and boys in the Evanston Vanguards Rifle and Drill Team he founded in 1947 and later in two drum and bugle corps he began.
A former Vanguard drill team member himself, 2nd Ward Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste recalled marching back and forth across Foster Field. The discipline Mr. Price demanded “was intense,” he said. “If you did not march in uniformity, you would not win. And that rifle you were holding up next to your head, you might feel it.”
Through his work with Evanston’s young people, Mr. Price became “a father figure, a grandfather figure, a great-grandfather figure and an uncle,” the alderman said. “He was an extraordinary man who never gave up on anybody.”
Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center was Uncle Bo’s second home, Alando Massie, the center’s building manager, told the RoundTable. Mr. Massie, 36, said, “My mother was in his drum corps. That was the thing for the generation before me. For my generation,” he said, “Bo was into basketball, chewing the fat, telling stories. He was everything for this community center. He may have been married to the same woman for more than 60 years, but Fleetwood-Jourdain was his mistress.”
In 2006 the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Theatre saluted him with a play called “Honoring a Living Legend: The Life and Times of Allen ‘Bo’ Price.” The playwright, the theatre’s program director, Ebony Joy, had a lot to write about: Mr. Price was a co-founder of COE-POPS (Council of Elders Pops and Moms), a group that helped discourage gang involvement in the 1980s. He was president of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center advisory board and effectively pushed to improve, renovate and expand the facility as well as add more programs to engage young people. He was a founding member and former commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Wm. B. Snell Post #7186 and a fixture as emcee of Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day programs at Fountain Square.
Bo Price and five of his brothers were drafted during World War II. He joined the Army in 1943 and fought in Europe “from D-Day to VE-day,” he liked to say. “We were one hell of an outfit.” Only 2,000 African-American military participated in the D-Day landing, including his all-black quartermaster unit that landed at Omaha Beach. Mr. Price was one of seven African-Americans featured in the 2007 documentary, “A Distant Shore: African-Americans of D-Day.”
Although he sometimes spoke of discrimination in the Army and in Evanston, Bo Price never seemed embittered by these experiences. As to the Army, he said without hesitation, “I would go back again. This is my country.” Right up through the Iraq War, he was an advocate for veterans’ rights and, on Memorial
Day, it was he who always made sure wreaths were laid on graves of local soldiers.
Mr. Price was remembered repeatedly at his memorial as deeply rooted in his hometown, working his whole life to make it better. “Bo Price was Evanston all the way,” said U. S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
After the war, Mr. Price made a living by working for the Illinois Highway Department and then spent decades as a shoe repairman in Glenview. He made a life with the Snell Post of the VFW and the young people he served at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.
“Bo didn’t have any money to speak of,” Mayor Morton recalled. “He gave himself.”
Dr. Michael D. Curry, the pastor of First Church of God, said, “This soldier man — he enlisted in active duty every day of his life.”