Days before Todd Nock would become the first Black mayor of Pocomoke City, a small town on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore, he paused as he tried to express what the historic achievement meant—not just to him, but to the community he was preparing to serve.
“I started sitting in the back of council meetings, then moving to the front, becoming first vice president, and now here we are,” Nock said.
The former activist-turned-councilman, who was on the verge of assuming an office that had been held exclusively by white residents since the town’s inception, found it difficult to express the emotions prompted by the historic occasion.
“I had no idea [I could be Mayor.] At the time,” in 2015, “I was an unemployed college dropout. I had just lost my jobs a couple weeks prior to that, I couldn’t afford to go back to school.”
For many people in the community, especially low-income and Black residents, prospects aren’t much better than they were for the young would-be mayor Nock years ago. Which is why Nock said he was committed to one priority after he is sworn in on April 11: moving the town forward as quickly as possible.
“I said eight years ago, ‘We go along to get along,’ and, unfortunately, there were so many things we went along with. So there are things here that are going to take years to fix, years to repair,” he said.
Nock’s path to the mayor’s office was both winding and contentious.
It started in 2015, when the town fired its first Black police chief, Kelvin Sewell.
Sewell had been widely praised for lowering crime in the small community of roughly 4,000, evenly divided between Black and white residents. The former Baltimore homicide detective espoused community-style policing, ordering his officers to get out of their cars and walk.
During his tenure, the city did not have a single homicide. But Sewell was ousted from his position under dubious circumstances.
Sewell’s termination became the focal point of Nock’s activism. Nock worked with a group called The Citizens for a Better Pocomoke to demand answers from a city council unaccustomed to pushback from Black residents.
At the time, despite the evenly split racial demographics, the town’s governing body was predominantly white. Even the city’s majority-Black 4th District was represented by a white police officer, who had run uncontested after a Black councilperson resigned and the city failed to post a public notice of the impending vacancy as required by the city charter.
The years-long battle for political parity was documented in The Real News film The Friendliest Town. The film recounts in detail how The Citizens for a Better Pocomoke organized shortly after Sewell’s firing, and continued to push for change in a town resistant to it.
The group attended council meetings and even endorsed candidates for office. They also confronted the council—not just about the secrecy of Sewell’s dismissal, but about the Black community’s lack of voice in the city’s main governing body,
Sewell’s firing was the subject of a major civil rights lawsuit. The suit contended Sewell was terminated after he refused to fire an officer who had filed an EEOC complaint alleging racist treatment by members of the Worcester County Drug Task Force.
The officer, Frank Savage, was subject to texts involving use of the N-word, a faux President Barack Obama-issued food stamp placed on his desk, and a bloody deer tail placed on his car. Sewell’s suit led to a $650,000 settlement with the city, and to a consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice to ensure the city implements a policy to address racism in the workplace.
The ACLU of Maryland, which led the lawsuit filed on behalf of Sewell, hailed Nock’s historic achievement as a step forward, both for the town and for the broader coalition of civil rights activists who have fought for equity on the Eastern Shore.
“Todd Nock’s historic election as Pocomoke City’s first Black mayor is a triumph—for the community, for Mayor Nock personally, and for the bold Black trailblazers of yesterday who forged the path leading to this moment,” said Debbie Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland.
“This includes Chief Sewell,” Jeon continued, “who inspired so many Black residents of this community to activism, but it also dates back decades, to courageous individuals like Carl Snowden, Honiss Cane, and James Purnell, who fought for equal rights for Black voters and toppled all-white governments in Pocomoke City and Worcester County in the 1980s and 1990s.”
Sewell was also subject to an extensive investigation by the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor, which resulted in a conviction for his failure to charge a Black resident of Pocomoke for damaging two parked cars. The probe focused on the 2014 accident and commenced after Sewell was fired, leading to two separate trials after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals vacated his initial conviction.
“I am happy to see Pocomoke City moving forward,” Sewell said. “I am so proud of Todd Nock becoming the first African-American mayor of Pocomoke.”
Nock has faced challenges on his path to the mayor’s office. In 2021, then-Mayor Susan Marshall-Harrison refused to swear him in after he won a second term on the council. Marshall-Harrison used false accusations that Nock had only lived in his district since 2017. He was eventually sworn in by a fellow councilmember. Nock successfully ran for the mayoral seat unopposed this year and will be sworn in by a county clerk next week.
As for the future, Nock told TRNN that among his top priorities are affordable housing, public safety, and the city’s faltering water system.
But he also called for healing for a town that has struggled to overcome a past that still looms over the politics of the present.
“Always be mindful and ready for reconciliation,” Nock said.
“Be more of a listener than a talker. Be true to yourself, be true to the people you represent.”