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Allen “Bo” Price: Shaping Evanston Youth
Thursday, October 01, 2009 Shorefont Journal by Carlis Sutton
you go on the West Side of Evanston and mention “Bo” Price, there will be an
immediate response: “He’s the man!” In Bo’s brief eighty-six years of living in
Evanston and over sixty years of working with young people, Allen “Bo” Price
has had an indelible impact on our community.
a living legend is slightly intimidating, but a conversation with Bo Price is
both a lesson in Evanston and American history as well as an experience in
witnessing overwhelming personal strength tempered with humility.
sense of humor puts you at ease. Watching him polishing his favorite horn, a
coronet, the instrument he uses in his all-girl drum and bugle corps, to a
gleaming stainless steel gives you an opportunity to observe both his demeanor
and thoroughness. Bo cautiously chooses his words and responds introspectively
to probing personal questions, demonstrating his compassion while perceptively
protecting his privacy.
has a remarkable memory and recalls incidents from his past as though they
occurred yesterday, as he recounts a wealth of individuals who have influenced
his life. While attending Foster School, Bo was greatly influenced by his
physical education instructor, Mr. Bouyer. Mr. Bouyer had been a captain in the
army and was the only black on the staff. Mr. Bouyer’s philosophy of “A winner
never quits and a quitter never wins” became Bo’s mantra.
“Bo” Price was born in Evanston, Illinois, on July 1, 1922, the youngest of
seven boys and the tenth of eleven children, who included three older and one
younger sister. He is the sole survivor in his family.
father, Squire Price, migrated to Evanston from Tennessee, and his mother,
Gertrude Bell, came from Virginia. They married in Evanston in 1900. His father
died in 1925; his mother lived to be eighty-four.
family first lived on Elmwood Avenue near Lake Street, then moved to the 1700
block of Lyons, east of Darrow, where they were living when Bo started to
school at Foster School. Foster School was integrated then, and Bo went there
from kindergarten through eighth grade. Mr. Bouyer, the Foster School gym
teacher, was also employed at Foster Field across the street from the school.
It was on the playground that Bo acquired an early interest in sports, and he
participated in all sports at Foster Field: softball, football, and ice
completing eighth grade, Bo attended Washburn Trade Institute in Chicago, where
an older sister was also going. He was planning to be a cobbler. Washburn
Institute is now Dunbar Vocational High School on Chicago’s South Side. When I
inquired why he went to Chicago for high school when there was one right here in
Evanston he replied, “Because there were better opportunities for blacks at
Washburn than those available at Evanston Township High School.” In fact, he
related how many black families sent their children to boarding schools in
other states to avoid the racism of Evanston High. The policy in effect at
Evanston Township High School at that time allowed only one black athlete on
the field at a time.
there were ample opportunities for blacks at Foster Field, with its organized
competitive teams in both football and baseball. Their reputation for
performance brought scouts from black colleges to recruit athletes at Foster
Field. During this time the park captured all the city championships in
contests with the other parks, mainly Boltwood (Crown) and Chandler Parks.
December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress declared war on
Germany and Japan. Many young Evanston black men were drafted, including Bo and
his six brothers; they served in the army, all seven at the same time. After
being inducted at Fort Sheridan, Bo received basic training at Fort Custer in
Michigan, then Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. The military was
segregated, so many blacks, including Bo, were trained to be quartermasters,
whose primary responsibility was keeping the all-white infantry supplied.
Little did Bo know that the skills acquired at this time would be instrumental
in preparing thousands of young black soldiers to return to civilian life. In
the military Bo acquired the discipline and determination that would be the
foundations for his future success in training youngsters. He remembers the
trains segregated by race for troops being sent to fight the same war.Eventually Bo arrived in Hampton, Virginia,
where he boarded the Queen Elizabeth I cruise liner turned troop transport ship
to sail with 20,000 other soldiers headed for the battlefields of Europe. The
trans-Atlantic crossing took five days. They sailed unescorted, hoping to avoid
the German U-boats (submarines). They traveled northeast near Iceland, a
circuitous route, and landed in Glasgow, Scotland.
the quartermasters started stockpiling supplies for the invasion of France.
While in Great Britain, Bo visited English cities, including Liverpool and
London. The black soldiers could go into town only on alternate days when the
white soldiers weren’t furloughed. Since all the officers were white, one
remarked that if his grandmother knew that he was giving passes to black men to
go date white women she would turn over in her grave. One of Bo’s buddies
received his pass and commented to the white officer, “Spin, Granny, spin.” Bo
remembers the German bombing raids on London, where they had to live in the
invasion of Europe began on D-Day June 6, 1944. The casualties were enormous,
and Bo’s unit, the Fifth Infantry, had to encamp in Bivouac for several months.
saw action in Belgium and eventually in the Battle of the Bulge, from December
16, 1944, to January 25, 1945. He was injured by shrapnel and medically
evacuated. White boys with similar injuries were returned to the States, Bo was
returned to the front lines. Since the casualties were so high, members of the
quartermaster corps were given a two-week crash course and sent to the front
beside the white infantry. The army was unofficially integrated. However, upon
return, the blacks who served as infantrymen were remanded to their
quartermaster positions before returning to the States.
white infantry were awarded the Presidential Commendation for their services in
the Battle of the Bulge; the black quartermasters were not given any official
recognition until after World War II, when they were decorated by the French
government with La Croix de Guerre, or the Legion of Honor. While serving in
Europe, Sergeant Bo Price had the opportunity to occasionally encounter other
black Evanstonians, and he ran into one of his brothers upon his departure from
Marseilles, France, to return to the States.
Price was discharged from the armed services in 1946 at Fort Sheridan and returned
to Evanston. He held several jobs before securing employment with the state of
Illinois. He continued his athletic activities by joining the Foster Field
Evanston Rams in 1947. The team was coached by William Johnson.
day he went to Jody Clay, a black Evanston shoe repairman, to have his uniform
altered. Clay offered to repair the uniform for free if Bo would join the Snell
Post of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). There had been a previous black chapter
of the American Legion here in Evanston, but several veterans had organized a
new chapter named for the first black Evanstonian killed in World War II,
William Snell. The previous American Legion had a drill team, and the members
of the new organization were interested in organizing another team. It was felt
that Bo, due to his young age, would be able to identify better with the young
men who would specialize in precision drill and rifle handling. Bo started with
several young men, including Charles Thomas, Paul Wilson, Edwin Jourdain III,
William Dawson, and Chris Gilbert. Bo inculcated his high expectations in these
drill team members and emphasized self-discipline. They accepted his challenge
and soon became famous throughout the state.
legacy of excellence was forged. First called the VFW Drill Team, their name
became recognized for the group’s expertise and they performed at halftime at
the Chicago Cardinals National Football League and halftime at the Chicago
Stadium for the Harlem Globetrotters. The name of the drill team changed to the
Gay Blades Drum and Bugle Corps in 1969.
1978, the name changed to The Pride of Evanston Drum and Bugle Corps. Bo’s
drill team integrated the Evanston Fourth of July Parade down Central Street
and became the first black championship drill team in Ilinois, therefore
breaking down barriers in Evanston, Chicago, and Springfield. Evanston Mayor
John R. Kimbark (1953–1962) stated, “If the drill team can’t march in the
Fourth of July parade, then there won’t be any parade.” This legacy of
excellence continued and Bo won his first national championship in Miami,
Florida, in 1957.
rise from our community at Foster Field to national prominence was accomplished
through a combination of community support, wealthy Evanstonians, masterly
training, practice, mentoring, and illustrious and innovative motivation
emphasizing high self-esteem.
most ardent supporter from the community was Ms. Fanny Lazar, the owner of the
famous Fanny’s Restaurant. Ms. Lazar sponsored Bo’s only birthday party at
recollection of that first national champion-ship was mostly of the support of
the parents and participation by so many high-achieving young people. The
majority of that championship group attended and graduated from college,
producing principals, certified public accountants, school-teachers, business
people, and attorneys who returned and contributed to our community.
significant contribution, the first national championship of a black drill team
group, has been immortalized by a sculpture in the foyer of Fleetwood/Jourdain
has similarly been recognized by the naming of a street (Foster Street from
Darrow to Ashland) in his honor. Only three other individuals have received
this recognition in our community; it is a small but significant tribute to an
individual who has contributed so much and who mastered the art of training,
mentoring, and motivating young people. Bo continued in this effort by
sponsoring a girl’s drum and bugle corps and color guard. Some participants are
the grandchildren of his famous “57” unit.
is Bo Price’s response to the current plight of our community? He summarizes in
one word: “parenting.” Most Evanstonians are experiencing the fallout of
second- and third-generation single teen parenting. At a recent workshop that
Bo attended, sponsored by Neighbors at Work, he emphasized that the most
important years for establishing learning skills are the formative years, one
to three years old. By that time a child has established his learning processes
for the rest of his life.
we need now are parenting classes for our young people who are parents. Says
Bo, “It is frustrating to observe all the accomplishments that my generation
made and to see young people not taking advantage of the opportunities in our
loss of our neighborhood school has been a major reason for the breakdown in
our community today.”
hope that this is the last generation in Evanston to experience a wandering in
the wilderness for forty years like the Jews who were liberated from Egypt.
Like Moses and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bo has shown us the Promised Land
and the only thing left is for us to take possession of the land.
This article was originally written for Shorefront on March 8, 2004. The
article has been slightly revised to take into account dates and some tenses.
Allen “Bo” Price passed away May 1, 2009—one month before his birthday—after a
sustained fight with lung and heart disease. The Board of Shorefront will
greatly miss his contributions to Shorefront and, more importantly, the
positive impact he had on hundreds of local youth.