September 13th marks a sad day in history, particularly for Pocomoke in Worcester County, Maryland, for that was the day in 1921 when the county lost its most prominent African American figure and advocate for education — Stephen Long. Pocomoke has long celebrated the man by memorializing the name in schools and local organizations. Born in Pocomoke at the end of the Civil War, Long grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, where he moved to live with an uncle. He graduated from Lincoln University in 1893 and returned to the Eastern Shore to teach, beginning at Fairmount, Maryland. He took a teaching job in Pocomoke and in May of 1914 was appointed Supervisor of Colored Schools in Worcester County. His background as well as the historical account of his murder in 1921 is described in the 1994 publication by Hammett Worthington-Smith.
It is good that the community celebrates the life of Stephen Long, thanks in part to his prominence and abilities, for his murder became a powerful shock to the region. So often the media descriptions of murders of African Americans during that period focused on the sensational; accounts would dehumanize the victim and presume guilt. In this case, none of the newspapers could refute the facts that Stephen Long was murdered in cold blood by a white person in town and in the witness of Long’s daughter and neighbors. And while some newspapers were justly critical of the light sentencing of the white killer of Stephen Long, one might wonder in awe at the circumstances and Long’s prominence that would result in a conviction of any white man for such a crime at that time, fair or not. Remember, Long was murdered roughly three months after the riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which resulted in countless deaths and the total destruction of a large black community. So too, Long’s murder was committed before at least three more lynchings on the Maryland Eastern Shore. Given the historical turmoil, it is good to memorialize Long and shed light on his history.
The Baltimore Afro-American of September 23rd described the funeral:
Over two thousand persons attended the funeral at Mt. Zion Church last Thursday at 2.30 P.M. The crowd was so large that it was necessary to hold the services on the church lawn. The casket was almost covered with flowers and the string of automobiles seemed endless.
The funeral speakers were virtually a whos-who list of prominent educators throughout the region.
There ought to be a more detailed book done about Stephen Long (unless one has since come out and I don’t know about it), for his life and death had to have been a complicated tale. And there are unanswered questions, such as just how much did forced child labor (referred to in Worthington-Smith’s book) affect his death, and to what extent did it exist on the Eastern Shore. Did Long indeed remove the children hired out to the Pilchard brothers (the two who were looking for Long, one of which was tried for Long’s murder) because they would not send the children to school as required, as Worthington-Smith had heard was a rumor? Years ago I heard an unsubstantiated story about the Gunby’s. It was Noah Gunby’s store, a black-operated store in a residential neighborhood where the crime occurred, in front of his store. It was said that the white Pilchard brothers were looking for Long and were asking about his whereabouts and that Noah Gunby pointed out Long as he was walking past the store. I was told that the Gunbys were treated with ill will locally for having pointed out Long, and that the Gunby’s suffered for it.
Also years ago someone pointed out to me a building that had once been the Gunby store. This first photo is from the Adel V. Holden book, Down on the Shore and I believe the store shown was the Gunby store. I was told the building in the photo below it (taken by me a few years ago) is that same building although modified. Perhaps someone can tell me, as well as tell me more about that neighborhood, about the Gunbys, and the people who knew Long. It would be interesting to read more about Long’s early life, his family life, his struggles for improving education, and his experiences.
— Linda Duyer