The Eastern Shore of Maryland’s buried past of racism, bigotry and division has remained largely hidden from the public eye.
One former Salisbury University student, however, is actively working to shed light on the region’s dark and troubled history for historians and activists alike to use for future action.
Thomas Long undertook an Honors creative project in the spring of 2021 unique to those of his fellow graduating peers, seeking to uncover the truth behind the Ku Klux Klan’s presence in Delmarva communities throughout history.
“This research is intended to bring on the state of reckoning that’s going on right now [across the country],” Long said. “We need to come to terms with how bad our history was in order to reach [that] state of reckoning.”
Utilizing local, regional and national historical newspaper articles made accessible through SU’s Nabb Center, as well as the digital databases of the Library of Congress and the Somerset County Library, Long uncovered first-hand accounts of local Klan activity across the lower Eastern Shore.
The research is part of a larger undertaking by the Nabb Center, a guide detailing the racial terror lynching’s of African Americans during the 19th and early 20th centuries that Long began collaborating on during the summer of 2020.
Long said the center’s inspiration for the research came after witnessing the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, eventually leading him to discover the Eastern Shore’s little-known past as a Klan “hot spot” during the 1920s, which became the focus of his research.
The history was so buried, in fact, that Long was only able to explore Klan activity on the Eastern Shore by navigating through thousands of individual hundred-year-old newspapers using keywords.
“There would be weeks where I wouldn’t find anything,” Long said.
Once reviewing newspapers from 1922, however, Long’s daunting journey had finally delivered promise.
These newspapers detailed Klan rallies, cross burnings and even Klan representatives speaking to packed theaters across the lower Eastern Shore during the early 1920s, capturing the history that had been “forgotten” by the peninsula’s residents. The discoveries made Long one of the first researchers to ever bare witness to the largely hidden information.
Long said the most shocking find he discovered was a Klansman’s speech at a downtown theater to a crowd of 1,500 Salisbury residents, only to be followed by a Klan-orchestrated cross burning on Main Street.
While the history of Klan events carries deep sentiments of hate, Long, a history major, believes the information deserves to be brought to light to ultimately benefit the community through acknowledgement and growth.
By compiling the newspapers in complete, seamless guides, Long accomplished his goal of increasing accessibility to the undisputed facts of history, which can act as sources for knowledge and eventually lead to progress.
“These guides will be able to aid those researching this dark period of local history by providing them with instant access to elusive primary sources that have been placed in a central location,” Long said.
The Klan activity guide also includes an interactive map of Delmarva displaying the location of major Klan events, brief analyses and summaries of Klan activities to supplement the newspapers and a list of outside resources. Long was mentored by associate history professor Dr. Kara French, who offered guidance on how to conduct the research.
Now published alongside the Nabb Center’s guide on Eastern Shore lynchings, the Klan activity guide may be accessed at https://libraryguides.salisbury.edu/c.php?g=1056210&p=8225340.
By JAKOB TODD
Featured image courtesy of Salisbury University Nabb Center.