Gloria Richardson, an influential but largely unrecognized civil rights pioneer whose determination not to back down while protesting racial inequalities was captured in a photo as she fought back a National Guard’s bayonet, has died. She was 99 years old.
Tya Young, her granddaughter, said Richardson died in her sleep Thursday in New York City and was not sick. Young said that while her grandmother was at the forefront of the civil rights movement, she did not seek praise or recognition.
“She did it because it had to be done and she was born a leader,” Young said.
Richardson was the first woman to lead a popular civil rights movement that extended outside the Deep South. In 1962, she helped organize and lead the Cambridge Movement on Maryland’s east coast with sit-ins to desegregate restaurants, bowling alleys, and movie theaters at protests that marked an early part of the Black Power movement.
“I’m saying the Cambridge movement was the soil in which Richardson planted a seed of black power and nurtured his growth,” said Joseph R. Fitzgerald, who wrote a 2018 biography of Richardson titled “The Struggle Is Eternal : Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation. “
Richardson has become the leader of protests on common economic issues such as jobs, access to health care and adequate housing.
“Everything the Black Lives Matter movement is working on right now is a continuation of what the Cambridge movement was doing,” Fitzgerald said.
In pursuit of these goals, Richardson advocated for the right of black people to defend themselves when attacked.
“Richardson has always supported the use of nonviolent direct action during protests, but once the protests are over and black people are attacked by whites, she fully supports their right to defend themselves,” Fitzgerald said.
Richardson was born in Baltimore and then lived in Cambridge in Dorchester County, Maryland, the same county where Harriet Tubman was born. She entered Howard University at the age of 16. During her years in Washington, she began to protest segregation in a pharmacy.
In 1962, Richardson attended the meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta and then joined the board of directors.
In the summer of 1963, after peaceful sit-ins turned violent in Cambridge, Governor J. Millard Tawes declared martial law. When Cambridge Mayor Calvin Mowbray asked Richardson to stop the protests in exchange for an end to arrests of black protesters, Richardson refused to do so. On June 11, riots by white supremacists broke out and Tawes called the National Guard.
While the city was still under National Guard presence, Richardson met with US Attorney General Robert Kennedy to negotiate what has become unofficially known as the “Treaty of Cambridge.” He ordered equal access to public housing in Cambridge in exchange for a one-year moratorium on protests.
Richardson was a signatory to the treaty, but she never agreed to end the protests. It was not until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that began to solve the problems at the local level.
She was one of the country’s leading women’s civil rights activists and inspired young women activists who protested against racial inequalities in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Richardson was on stage during the decisive march on Washington in 1963 as one of six women listed as “freedom fighters” on the program. However, she was only allowed to say “hello” before the microphone was taken.
The male-centric Black Power movement and the fact that Richardson’s leadership in Cambridge lasted for about three years may have clouded her influence, but Fitzgerald said she was well known in black America.
“She’s only been active for about three years, but during that time she was literally at the center of a high-stakes black liberation campaign, and she’s under threat,” Fitzgerald said. “She has white supremacist terrorists threatening her, calling her home, threatening her with her life.
Richardson resigned from the Cambridge, Maryland, Nonviolent Action Committee in the summer of 1964. Divorced from her first husband, she married photographer Frank Dandridge and moved to New York City where she held various jobs including the National Council black women.
She is survived by her daughters, Donna Orange and Tamara Richardson, and her granddaughters Young and Michelle Price.