A few days ago, in celebration of Black History Month, the Winston-Salem Police Department honored some of the first black police officers in the city. But there is a backstory that has been lost in the fog of time.

On August 7, 1880, two black women, residents of the town of Winston, got into a fight. The police were summoned.  The local weekly newspaper the Union Republican reported that the policemen arrested one woman:  “It is reported that she was boisterous and would not go gently, and the police had to call for assistance. It is reported that she was somewhat roughly handled, and that the crowd of negroes looking on became enraged, and threatened a rescue.”

Someone panicked and called out the local militia. Amidst great confusion, three black men were arrested and charged with inciting to riot. A week later, one policeman testified in court that one of the accused had actually assisted him in making the arrest. That charge was dropped. The other two accused had their charges reduced to disorderly conduct and were released under a peace bond.

Shortly thereafter, the town commissioners received a petition from several leading white citizens, including Superior Court judge Darius H. Starbuck: “(We) do petition your Honorable Body to appoint Israel L. Clements (colored) as additional Policeman in and for the Town of Winston.”

The commissioners’ response astonished almost everyone. Earlier that year, they had, on their own, asked Mr. Clements to join the local police force. And he had turned them down, because his job at the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company paid considerably more than the salary of a policeman. No further action was taken to hire a black policeman.

A year later, Clements ran for a seat on the town commission. In a non-districted election, he won, and became the first ever black town commissioner. Unfortunately, near the end of his term, he died. The commissioners passed a resolution that said, in part:  “(he) was one who was recognized as a Standard for morals and probity…a most faithful and efficient upholder of law and good government in the town.” It would be almost ten years before another black man was elected to the town commission.

Walter Long (r) with his baby brother Sylvester.

Flash forward about thirty years, to around 1912. A local black man named Walter Long, who had been fascinated since childhood by police work, applied for a job as a Winston city policeman. He was told that that was impossible. So he went off to West Virginia to take a course in law enforcement. Around 1916 he returned to Winston-Salem and opened his own private detective agency.

Over the next 25 years, his practice extended all along the Atlantic seaboard, from Atlanta to New York. Many of the cases that he worked were in conjunction with lily white local police agencies, including the North Carolina state police, the Forsyth County sheriff’s office and the Winston-Salem Police Department. But because he was a “hired gun,” he never received public credit for his work.

When he died in 1941, most “black” obituaries appeared in agate type in the local papers in a special boxed section. Walter Long’s obituary ran as a regular story, including a picture of him, a bit of belated recognition.

This weekend, we will finish off our posts for Black History Month with a piece on the rest of Walter Long’s extraordinary family. You ain’t heard nothing yet!