Mentor, colleague remembered for passion for justice

Brett Johnson

Criminal justice professor Elton Ward Long, who earned the respect and admiration of colleagues and students throughout his 30 years of teaching at Sacramento State, died Feb. 12 following a series of strokes.

Long struggled with health problems over the past few years – related to the three consecutive strokes that occurred around the time of his retirement from Sac State in 2002. It was in Kaiser Permanente in South Sacramento that he was pronounced dead from a heart attack. He was 67 years old.

Long’s teaching career at Sac State began in 1972 after earning a doctorate in law from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1970. He served as an inspiration to many students over the years, motivating students he taught to engage in law practice themselves.

One of his former students, Johnny L. Griffin III, is now a distinguished Sacramento attorney with his own law firm, The Law Offices of Johnny L. Griffin III.

“Elton was an excellent teacher, mentor and friend,” Griffin said. “He took me under his wing, and it was his encouragement that guided me to becoming an attorney focused on civil rights practice.”

Long was one of four co-authors of the widely-recognized criminal justice textbook, “American Minorities: The Justice Issue.” The textbook was published in 1975 and discussed how minorities were treated regarding the law.

He taught several courses that focused on the subject of criminal issues that effect minorities, along with general criminal justice and criminology classes.

Griffin said Long’s teaching style was very straight-forward and informative, but he remained down to earth and approachable for students in need of assistance.

“Elton was a bold man that really stood up for what he believed in,” Griffin said. “He was a smoker. He would take out a cigarette in class, light it up, and say, “There’s a lot of things that the constitution denies me, but they can’t take smoking in my own classroom away from me,’ and all of the students would laugh. If he didn’t have an ashtray, well, the floor would do just fine.”

Long was born April 5, 1943 in Sacramento. He spent his childhood growing up in the Oak Park area as the youngest of his two siblings, who have also spent their lives pursuing professions related to criminal justice.

Long’s brother and sister both taught within the criminal justice department at Sac State in the early ’70s before leaving to pursue other careers. His brother is Sacramento Superior Court judge James Long. His sister, June, is a retired deputy attorney general.

Elton’s parents, Susie and James J. Long, lived as laborers in the rural segregated south before moving to Sacramento. Elton’s brother, James, said the way they were raised compelled them to work in professions that sought fairness and justice for all people.

“Elton lived his life as a man who loved the law, loved higher education and had a special interest in students,” James said. “He was very happy to be teaching something that he was so passionate about, and often spoke of how proud he was to be a professor at Sac State.”

Things were not easy for Elton at a young age. He had to work a full-time job at a liquor store in order to support himself and his family, and simultaneously take on a full course load at law school.

“Nothing was given to him in life, whatever he had, he worked for,” June said. “Elton took that attitude into his profession to become a meaningful and respected man among his peers.”

Elton is survived by his second wife, Annie, and his two sons from his first marriage, Andre and Dimone.

There will be no funeral or memorial service, in respect of the late Elton Long’s wishes. Remembrances can be sent to Christian Brothers High School, 4315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

“Sac State has done nothing but good things for the Long family,” James said. “On behalf of Elton, and our family, I am truly grateful for the university and their support over the years. The school will always have a special place in my heart.”

Brett Johnson can be reached at [email protected]