John W. Price

Dublin Core


John W. Price


John Price was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1916. He was brought to California by his mother, Rosilee, and his sister, Julie, in 1919. His father did not join them and evidently was never a part of his life, as John did not know his name. They stayed on 12th street until 1921, when they moved in with John's grandmother--and Rosilee's mother--Julia Wilkinson on 2103 East 114th St. Rosilee worked as a janitress at an "amusement house" while John attended school, first at Grape Street School until 1930 and then on to Jordan High School. Tragically, John lost his mother to a car accident on November of 1925. Unlike his sister, Julia, John did not complete high school, choosing to stay home with his bedridden grandmother, who supported them until her death in June 7, 1934. Julie, meanwhile, worked in domestic work in Los Angeles all her life

Having lost both his mother and grandmother, John Price's trouble with the law took root. While attending a trade school in Los Angeles to become a cook, the then 19-year-old John Price started having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl named Estrella Hogan at least from February to March of 1935. He was arrested and charged with multiple counts of statutory rape and was granted parole on April 24 by the Juvenile Department. He was instructed to not leave the county or his aunt's house as a condition of his parole, but left for Chico to work with the Civilian Conservation Corps under the alias of "Donald Johnson." Though he broke the rule, the Probation Department advised leaving him there, perhaps hoping his work there would keep him out of trouble.

Finding employment as an African American man with the CCC, however, was difficult then, as white workers would refuse to work with blacks, who would often be relegated to "Negro projects." Once hired in the work camps, they often suffered from discrimination from the locals of the communities in which they worked or from their own camp officers and supervisors. Price's experience seemed to be no exception, as he and three other Black workers were arrested for assault with a deadly weapon in an apparent race riot at their camp in Chico in June of 1935. In response, representatives of the American Youth Congress and the Men's Progressive League (two active civil rights organization) organized the Chico Defense Committee to rally public support around Price, while the International Labor Defense (an advocacy group that defended the Scottsboro Boys) provided legal defense. The Chico Defense Committee accused the camp officers of inciting the riot through ongoing racial abuse and segregation in the camp. In response, Assemblyman Augustus Hawkins called for an investigation of the CCC camps in Chico and the greater Butte County, which would be carried out later that year. In addition, the LA Sentinel reported the decrepit conditions of the jail in which Price and the others were kept. They were reportedly denied pens and paper to write to their attorney or families and given food that was "not palatable." In response, the black community went to work to defend these men and investigate their conditions.

According to the LA Sentinel, the trial revealed that camp officers had lied about the events of the riot. For instance, one camp lieutenant testified that all of the black workers were housed in one set of barracks while the rocks that were allegedly thrown at some of the officers came from another. The lieutenant also claimed that "one of the boys cut him under the eye with a knife," but under cross examination, revealed that he had suffered no injury the night of the events and admitted that none of the accused men had tried to assault him with or without any weapons. Price's attorney, Leo Gallagher, then had the charge of assault with a deadly weapon reduced to a misdemeanor of disturbing the peace, under the grounds of the new evidence, indicating that Price and the others may have rioted or demonstrated over their treatment in the camp, but were not guilty of assaulting the officers.

Price eventually returned to LA County on June 21 and was contacted by his juvenile probation officer, who warned him about his behavior. Apparently, he ignored further supervision and rules, and so was remanded on September 11 to the custody of the LA sheriff, as the Juvenile court declared him an unfit subject for further parole consideration. He was charged fully for his previous crime of rape in the Superior Court, to which he plead guilty. He was then sentenced to the Preston School of Industry from 1935 to February of 1937.

After his release, he started a romantic relationship with a woman named Dorothy Jones, who was described by court documents as a "jail bird" with her own record of past offenses. Perhaps she proved to be a bad influence on Price, as they would commit a series of thefts that would lead to their arrest. On May 8, 1938, a middle-aged man named Andrew Murphy was driving down Wilmington Boulevard when he picked up Dorothy Jones, who was waiting for a ride. Court documents described Murphy as a "respectable citizen" who intention was "just to aid a pedestrian", though this is obviously open to interpretation. As they were driving, John Price allegedly pulled his own car in front of Murphy's and then proceeded to take the man's wallet and watch, while a third accomplice, one George Williams, beat Murphy and told him to stay quiet.

Price was arrested in connection to this theft on May 15th. He admitted to taking part in the robbery but asserted he did not know his friends intended to rob Murphy. He said in testimony, "George Williams...asked me to go with him to get some money. I didn't know where he was going. He just stopped his car by his (Murphy's) and called to me." Finally, he appealed to the court for a light sentence and chance at parole by acknowledging the loss of family he had suffered in his life. "I had been devoted to my mother but death taken her away from me when I was very young. Then my grandmother. I have been on my own and going pretty straight until 1935 because I was raised in a nice family."

Judge Frank Smith denied his plea for parole, and sentencing price to serve time in San Quentin for grand theft for 1 to 10 years. He was released on parole on June 20, 1940 into employment. During this time, he married a woman named Jessie (now Jessie Price) without permission from parole, and so was held in custody between April and June of 1941. He was also confined for parole misconduct once again April 8, 1942 for drinking and getting into a fight with two white men. He was arrested again in 1945 for forgery and sent back to San Quentin for a term of 8 years. He was released on June 11, 1947, and shows no records of being arrested and incarcerated again. His last recorded address was on 3105 California Street in Berkeley with his wife, Jessie.


Lucas Bensley

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