From the moment they went public in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution more than five years ago, the young men who accused Eddie Long of sexual coercion forever altered the bishop's outsized legacy.
As word spread Sunday about Long’s death after an extended bout with cancer, everyone wanted to know what his accusers — four young men, all in their mid-to-late-20s now — thought about the charismatic pastor’s legacy.
"We've been hearing from people from all walks of life — the media, celebrities, gospel singers — wanting to hear what we think," said Spencer LeGrande, one of four former New Birth Missionary Baptist Church members who filed suit against Long in 2010. A fifth accuser, Centino Kemp, came forward as the lawsuit entered a mediation process. An undisclosed financial settlement was reached soon after.
LeGrande, now living Charlotte where he co-owns a thriving sneaker cleaning company, and two of the plaintiffs, Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg, told The AJC Sunday that when the time is right, they’ll have their say.
“As much as we’d like to make a statement about the passing of Bishop Eddie Long, we’ve all decided to remain silent, for now,” Long’s accusers said in a joint response given exclusively to The AJC. They said Jamal Parris, the fourth former New Birth member to sue Long, also consented to the statement.
“We’re all brothers in this,” LeGrande said.
Their statement concluded, “Our perspectives will be addressed in our book, Foursaken, which we hope to release soon.”
LeGrande said they’re still shopping for a publisher. The book will focus on their lives after breaking ties with the controversial bishop, who consistently denied the allegations against him.
LeGrande was 15 when he met Long at one of New Birth’s satellite churches in Charlotte, he told The AJC in 2011. The sermon, on the importance of fathers, left him in tears.
“When I started crawling, that was the day [my father] left,” LeGrande said.
Long filled that void, LeGrande said, telling him “I got you … I will be your dad.” Soon they were talking regularly on the phone.
The lack of a strong male influence was a common thread that bound Long’s accusers. Parris told The AJC in 2011 his father was abusive and rarely present. He said he met the bishop, whom he said he would eventually call “daddy,” when he was 14 and new to Atlanta.
Both men said they were 17 when the sexual advances began. By then he had taken them on several trips, to Kenya, Honduras and the Bahamas, among other exotic locales, introducing them to world-famous celebrities and lavishing them with new cars and their own apartments.
Their relationship with Long affected each man differently, but profoundly. Parris told The AJC in 2011 he was battling suicidal thoughts — “I’d love to take pills and never wake up,” he said.
Long never addressed the scandal directly, but in a sermon earlier this year he, too, had briefly entertained taking his own life.
“I had a moment…I had a moment…I wanted to kill myself and was ready,” he told his New Birth congregation, referring to a time when he said he felt “condemned from the four corners of the Earth.”
“My family loved me,” he said. “My church loved me…Regardless of what anybody said, love lifted me and carried me. And you didn’t judge me.”
Now it appears his accusers will have the final say on the most trying chapter in the life of New Birth and its bishop.