Gone but never forgotten, how Doc Long's legacy lives on by those he inspired

Among other notable subjects for Black History Month, Trenton celebrates the memory of Doughtry “Doc” Long, born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1942. Doc was raised in Trenton and made his home here for decades until his death in January, 2020. He was one of the bright lights in Trenton’s vibrant arts community, well known for his activism, his poetry, and his inspiration to countless students.

Spoken word artist Todd Evans carries on Doc’s legacy and says, “You could ask four different people about Doc and they’d tell you four completely different stories. Doc was known by different people for different things — baseball, fishing, drill team, chess tournaments, poetry — the list just goes on and on.” Evans’ father, Don Evans, was a professor at what was then Trenton State College, and came to know Doc as an academic and a civil rights activist. Todd remembers his father’s long conversations with Doc when Todd was a boy: “They used to talk all the time about the Panthers, Jesse Jackson, whatever was going on in the civil rights movement.” Todd reconnected with Doc by chance at a later age, and Doc was the only artist who showed up for Todd’s first endeavor hosting an open mic event; thanks in part to Doc’s mentorship and encouragement, Todd didn’t give up and continues to host open mics to this day. Todd recalls his own period of relative dormancy in the world of the arts, but when he became more involved in poetry and drama, Doc repeatedly told him he should read the play Fences by August Wilson (now well known as the film starring Denzel Washington). Eventually, with a tone of mild impatience, Doc chided him, “Call me when you read Fences.” Evans finally did so, just in time to direct the play for a Trenton-area theater group.

Doc attended West Virginia State College and earned his Master’s in Urban Studies at Trenton State, now The College of New Jersey. He was active in the civil rights movement, and worked as an Associate Dean of Students at the University of Pennsylvania but resigned in protest in 1970, after trying to create a new advising system for Black students. His world view had been shaped by the struggles of the 60s, and he saw that work for freedom and real democracy could be frustrating but required a long-term commitment. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer specializing in community development in West Africa, and worked more than 30 years as an educator. His life’s work revolved around connections between literature and social justice. Doc taught literature and creative writing at his alma mater, Trenton Central High School, where he founded the Phoenix Literary Magazine. He worked with the Poetry in the Schools program in New York City, and started the Trenton Writers Guild as well as an African American Studies Program at Trenton State Prison. Doc viewed education as essential in the advancement of the Black community: in his Rules for Cool, he advised readers to, “Be into deep heavy stuff and carry large intelligent words around in the same pocket with your money.”

Doc Long has been published in numerous journals including The Literary Review, Brilliant Corners, Obsidian, The Painted Bride Quarterly, NYU’s Black Renaissance Noire, and others. His work has been featured in The Poetry of Black America, Blue Stones and Salt Hay, Gathering Ground, Let Loose on the World, A Rock Against the Wind and Legacies. Trenton’s own Eric Maywar, owner of Classics Books, published The Bookshop on Lafayette Street in 2019, an anthology that included three of Doc’s poems. Doc was affiliated with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and his work has been recognized with multiple awards, notably the Broadside Press Award for Poetry, as well as a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts.

Reggie Walker, now on the faculty at Montclair State and Director of the EOF (Equal Opportunity Funds) program at Rider University, graduated from Trenton High in 2001. Reggie remembers Doc, who was his creative writing teacher, as the first male teacher who made an impact in his life. “It was a unique experience for me: this super-cool Black guy comes in and says, I’m going to help you as a writer. He gave us this belief in ourselves as writers and entrepreneurs, he’d bring us around to open mics and events in Princeton and places where there were all these poets from more affluent areas. I’ll always credit him for instilling in us the sense that we were just as good and deserving of success as anyone else. I still have the book I published in his class. Later on, when it came time for me to publish my own books of poetry, I dedicated one to Doc and brought it to show him. And then when I was teaching, I’d bring my own students to the open mics and poetry classes he’d give at the Conservatory on East State Street. It was such a great feeling to be able to share his legacy.” Reggie also fondly recalls Doc’s old 1980s Volvo that he still drove in 2001 and beyond. “We’d say to him, 'Doc, when are you getting a new car?' And he’d tell us he was keeping his Volvo as long as it would start and kept running. He finally got a new car a few years before he died, but the way he was with his Volvo was the way he was with his students: As long as you kept going, he’d stick with you and support your work. He was a true gem. He never shied away from his mistakes, he’d share his experiences so we could learn from them. At his memorial service I found that so many other former students had stories similar to mine. He was a proud father to his own biological children, but he was a father figure to so many others.”

Doc had three accomplished daughters, Lori Rambough (comedian Sommore), Nia Long, and Djamila McRae; Nia, who has a distinguished career in Hollywoord as an actress, remembered him in speaking with The Trentonian in 2020: “My father was a master of words, an educator, a mentor and a hero in his community—a poet with stories to tell about the Black experience in America. He wasn’t afraid to raise his fist in solidarity for everything Black and proud.”

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