Electra Kimble Price has accomplished a lot in her life. She’s worked in community relations and in the office of the superintendent for Oakland public schools; on the grand jury for Alameda County; on a special education task force for the Department of Justice; at the Family History Center in Oakland; and, in what was perhaps her most astounding job, as both a student and the assistant dean of students at HNU.
Price’s journey to HNU took a somewhat circuitous route. She graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1943 and attended UC Berkeley for two years until she left in 1945, when she married her husband and accompanied him during his military service. The couple had two daughters, and Price always encouraged them to pursue their education. But she also recognized at the time that she should have been taking her own advice. “I thought, ‘I’ve got my nerve, pushing [my daughters] to finish, and I haven’t finished mine,’” she said.
In the early 1970s, Price met Sister Mary Ethel Tinnemann, PhD, a professor of history at HNU from 1960 to 2005, who was also engaged in community work in Oakland. After meeting Sr. Mary Ethel and some other Sisters, Price felt as though HNU would be the right choice for her to continue her education. “I was determined to finish and some of the reasons that I picked Holy Names were not only for its quality and standards, but also the faculty and the proximity to home,” she said.
When she arrived on campus in 1971 to complete her bachelor’s degree (with a double major in psychology and sociology), Price found a campus that was in a state of flux. As she explained, the University had offered scholarships to 14 young black women from Oakland high schools, and the transition for some of those women into college life was proving difficult for them and the faculty.
Price recalled that, “The Sisters’ interaction with diversity was very limited. Most of them had come from the convent into the experience [at Holy Names] and had never had any interaction with diversity. And some of the difficulties that the girls had were due to the Sisters saying things that they thought were perfectly all right and didn’t know were improper. The other thing was that many of the girls were not prepared for college work.”
In the middle of the semester, Price decided to speak with HNU President Sister Mary Ambrose Devereux to provide advice. As a result of that meeting, some of the young women who’d enrolled at Holy Names went to nearby Merritt College to work on the courses they needed to prepare themselves, and President Devereaux pitched Price on an unusual idea. Price recalled the exact scene: “Sister [Mary Ambrose] called me in and she said, ‘I have something to say to you and I don’t want you to respond until I finish,’ and I thought, ‘Oh dear.’ She said, ‘I want to make you assistant dean of students.’ And I said, ‘No way.’” Price explained that she thought about President Devereaux’s offer for a few days and finally accepted the job. “So as assistant dean of students, I said I would do it provided I could work with all of the students, not just the black students, because I didn’t want the black students to feel that they had hired me just to work with them,” she said. “So Sister [Mary Ambrose] agreed, and I worked there for the two years that I was working on my bachelor’s. I had an office there where I counseled students, and it was a really delightful experience. It was a chance for me to do work I had done before in community relations, because that had been my field for practically all of my adult life.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Price stayed on campus to pursue her master’s degree in education and continued to serve as the assistant dean of students. In addition to counseling students, Price also did in-service diversity training with faculty members.
When Price left HNU, she was hired as a community relations assistant for Oakland public schools (now Oakland Unified School District) and later worked as the executive assistant for the superintendent. In 1986, she retired from OUSD and served for two years on the Alameda County Grand Jury.
A PASSION FOR GENEALOGY
It was in the 1990s that Price discovered her passion for genealogy, a passion that, as she put it, “has kept me going and halfway sane at this age.” Her mother moved in with her around that time and would tell Price stories about their family. In trying to record her mother’s stories, Price became interested in genealogical research. She took classes in genealogy at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and volunteered for 13 years at Oakland’s Family History Center, where she assisted with African-American genealogical research. Price is also a founding member of the African-American Genealogical Society of Northern California (AAGSNC), based in Oakland. The AAGSNC celebrated its 20th anniversary in September 2016.
Price attributes her research skills to the time she spent at HNU. “I have spent most of my life since I left the school district in doing family history research,” she said. “But it was the kind of discipline and research and study that I gained at Holy Names. That really pushed me ahead. So research and genealogy were really a snap, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
During the course of her own research, Price has identified over 8,000 members of her family, from both her mother’s and father’s sides. She explained why the discovery of so many ancestors is a rare feat. “It’s remarkable for African-American research because of the census,” she said. “It wasn’t until 1870 that black people were listed on the census as human beings—they were slaves before, but they never had a name. So going back from 1870 was a real challenge, because then you have to look into the actual history and all that was going on for the family in the locality you thought they were in; you’d find them on tax records and plantation journals and things like that.”
REFLECTING ON HNU
Price put her time at HNU in the context of her life experience. “Life is interesting. And I have seen many changes in my lifetime,” she said. “Because I can remember walking across the Bay Bridge before the cars were allowed on. On the weekends, they would allow people to walk, you know, as far as it was safe while they were spanning the Bay.”
Given the scope of her life and all that she’s done, it is notable that what stood out to Price when she reflected on her time at HNU was the community she found on campus. She shared a wonderful memory of a time when she and her family found comfort in the support of the Sisters and others. “While I was there [at Holy Names], my husband suffered kidney failure and we thought, or the doctors thought, that he wouldn’t make it,” she said. “The Sisters said that they would include him in their prayers. He survived and when they had the faculty dinner at the beginning of the semester, he came with me. When we walked in the room, they all stood up and applauded. Oh, I was just overwhelmed and he was so surprised.”