Her Name Is Gloria Richardson And Yes, She Did Survive, She’ll be 98 This Year!

Meet Gloria Richardson, She’s known as the leader of the Cambridge movement doing the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.

Richardson was recognized as a huge figure in the Civil Rights Movement at the time, she was one of the signatories to “The Treaty of Cambridge”, signed in July 1963 with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and state and local officials after the riot the month before.

Richardson was honored with five other women leaders by being seated on the stage at the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but none were allowed to speak to the crowd. Later Richardson married again and moved to New York City, where she worked locally in Harlem on civil rights and economic development.

In December 1961, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent Reginald Robinson and William Hansen to Cambridge to organize civil rights actions. SNCC had been contacted by activists in the city. The two young men started sit-ins in February to protest segregated facilities. They targeted segregated movie theaters, bowling alleys, and restaurants. Donna Richardson, Gloria’s daughter, was among fellow students who supported the demonstrators. Richardson and Yolanda Sinclair, another mother of a protester, were among parents who wanted to show their support for these actions.

In 1961, a Freedom Ride came to Cambridge. The black city council member had attempted to discourage the campaign by insisting that the city was already desegregated. At first Richardson rarely participated in civil disobedience, because she could not accept the original SNCC nonviolence rules.

In June 1962, Richardson was asked and helped organize the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC), the first adult-led affiliate of SNCC. She became its official spokesperson. The organization had initially formed in March of that year. After CNAC canvassed African-American communities in a survey, they expanded the goals to work for economic equality: to improve housing, education, employment, and healthcare. Many blacks struggled with low wages or unemployment.

Richardson said in a later interview on why she was committed to CNAC’s leadership reflecting the community. “The one thing we did was to emphasize that while you should be educated, that education, degrees, college degrees were not essential [here]. If you could articulate the need, if you knew what that need was, if you were aware of the kinds of games that white folk play that was the real thing”.

In the summer of 1962, CNAC focused on voter registration and an effort to get out the vote. They wanted to replace state senator Frederick Malkus, who had opposed legislation that would have allowed additional industries into Dorchester County, Maryland. The lack of industrial jobs limited opportunities for the African-American community.

Richardson later recalled that she had been a rebellious person since childhood but also identified as an adult as part of a community of militant African-American women: “I think I turned out like a lot of women in Cambridge…They did their cooking and ironing, but I don’t remember them walking two steps behind anybody, and I think the men knew that. Later most of the members of our civil rights group were women…When we were attacked at demonstrations, they were the ones throwing stones back at the whites.”

The sit-ins and civil unrest continued in 1963. After local officials appealed to the governor for help to control the protests, saying they were disrupting business, Governor J. Millard Tawes imposed martial law and a curfew in the city, and appealed to President John F. Kennedy to order in the National Guard. When President Kennedy demanded that locals stop their protests, Richardson responded that the president could go to hell.

In June 1963 the Cambridge protests had attracted students and other activists from around the country. On June 11, white patrons at Dizzyland had attacked six white and black demonstrators conducting a sit-in there. General Gelston of the National Guard announced that he was changing the rules of martial law: he announced a curfew of 9 P.M. instead of 10, stores were to close at 2 P.M. instead of 9 P.M., firearms were banned, and automobile searches by police and National Guard were authorized.

At 8 P.M. that night 250 African Americans staged a “freedom walk” to the Dorchester County Courthouse. Shortly after the demonstrators stopped to pray, they were attacked and pelted with eggs by crowds of more than 200 white townsfolk. Two carloads of whites drove in and started a gun fight with armed African Americans. State police used tear gas and guns to disperse the mob.

The federal government intervened in an effort to end the violence and protests. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and other Justice Department and housing officials brokered a five-point “Treaty of Cambridge”, to include a statement for equal rights, that was signed in July. The Attorney General, representatives of the State Of Maryland, local black leadership-including Richardson, and elected Cambridge officials were all signatories.
By the autumn of 1963, black children in Cambridge were attending previously all-white schools, bus transportation was desegregated, the library and hospital were desegregated, and a black policeman on the force was promoted.

In this period, Richardson rose to national prominence as a civil rights leader. In August 1963 she was saluted as one of the six “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” featured on the stage of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Like most of the other women that day, however, she was not permitted to address the crowd. (She said “hello” to the audience before the microphone was taken out of her hands and she was shown off.)

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