For months and months during my early research of Salisbury’s Georgetown neighborhood, I was well aware of Ulysses Grant Langston yet during all that time I had not seen a photograph of him — until the day I located his obituary. I had discussed the history of the late U.G. Langston with Salisbury resident Fulton Slemons. But one day I saw the obituary in a scrapbook somewhere. I brought it to Fulton, tossed it before him and said, “Look! You never told me he was white!”
After a nice long pause, Fulton grinned and said, “You never asked.”
That’s got to be the funniest retort I had gotten at that time, one I am fond of remembering. He taught me a lesson — ask. Others had mentioned Langston, and I had even read about him. But I was not prepared for the image of that of a country doctor or something. That was ridiculous of me, of course, but I was rather grateful for the reminder to ask. Fulton told me that Langston’s wife had been light skinned as well. And I knew that his wife Julia was the daughter of a prominent resident of Salisbury, a man whose father had been enslaved, then freed by a Will, a man who was one of the five freedmen founders of Salisbury’s oldest surviving black church. And I knew that U.G. and Julia never had children. Langston’s name was displayed proudly and prominently in the heading of his obituary, in bold letters, “Bro. Ulysses Grant Langston.”
I have often wished I’d known more about Langston. What little I know comes from an amazing 1934-35 book, Biography — Business, Sketches of Pleasing Personalities in the City of Salisbury and Wicomico County, edited by W. C. Thurston of Salisbury. It is an extraordinary publication for its time. It had an “Afro American Section,” which included several biographical sketches. Thurston wrote (keep in mind it was written in the 1930s):
Ulysses Grant Langston was born in Whaleyville, Va., September 12th, 1872. His parents were Jesse and Mrs. Ariminta Lee Langston, both natives of that State. He attended the public schools of Nansemond County, and at an early age formed a partnership with Work that has continued to this day.
His residence in this city covers a period of approximately 39 years. Employed in a confidential capacity by the late William H. Jackson for 12 years or more, he was from 1916 to 1919 with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railways at Boston, Mass.
He married Miss Julia U. Houston, daughter of the late Colonel Solomon Houston of this city. He is a member of the First Baptist Church of Salisbury, and active in the Masonic Fraternity of which he is Deputy Grand Master for the 8th Masonic District of the State of Maryland Jurisdiction.
For a number of years he was engaged in the livery business, located on E. Church St. In 1902 he established the grocery business in which he is still engaged at 328 E. Church Street.
Irrespective of race, creed or color, U. G. Langston represents in many respects the finest handiwork of his Creator. His religion is a practical garment which stands the strain of everyday wear and tear. Few men excel him in the exercise of those fine qualities which make for the best in American citizenship.
For whatever temptations he has been able to resist he gives the credit to his mother and father. He has one brother, a distinguished Divine, who is pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia, one of the largest Churches in the city.
Thurston was known to be quite poetic, even published poems describing some of the residents of Salisbury. Langston is buried in the Houston Cemetery, named for his father-in-law, Solomon Houston, who was influential in obtaining the property for the cemetery.
— Linda Duyer