Born in 1922, Gloria Richardson grew up in Cambridge, Maryland. As the Civil Rights Movement gained strength during the 1960s, Richardson was the leader of the Cambridge Movement, a sometimes violent fight for civil rights in her hometown. She espoused the need for economic justice and tactics beyond nonviolent demonstrations. Richardson also took the stage during 1963's March on Washington.
Gloria Richardson was born Gloria St. Clair Hayes on May 6, 1922, in Baltimore, Maryland. When she was six years old, her family moved to Cambridge, Maryland. As a teenager, she attended Howard University, where she studied sociology and participated in a few protests for civil rights. After graduating, she worked for the federal government during World War II. She then returned to Cambridge and married, becoming Gloria Richardson.
Leader of the Cambridge Movement
In January 1962, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee protested against segregation in Cambridge. After Richardson's daughter, Donna, became involved with the SNCC, Richardson joined in forming the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee. Selected to head the CNAC—the only affiliate of the SNCC that was not student-led—Richardson became a leader of the Cambridge Movement, the first push for civil rights to take place outside of the Deep South.
With Richardson at the helm, the Cambridge Movement began to advocate for economic rights as well as desegregation. Richardson herself had been unable to find work using her degree. Her family was well-off, but she also understood the need to improve the economic situation for African Americans in Cambridge, who had an unemployment rate approaching 50 percent, several times higher than the rate for the white population.
Though Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement wanted activists to use nonviolence, Richardson did not agree that this was the only protest tactic, and some in the Cambridge Movement defended themselves when attacked. In 1964, Richardson stated, "Self-defense may actually be a deterrent to further violence. Hitherto, the government has moved into conflict situations only when matters approach the level of insurrection."
Treaty of Cambridge and After
In the spring of 1963, 80 protesters, including Richardson, were arrested over seven weeks. In June 1963, a tense atmosphere took hold during demonstrations. Riots then broke out, violence that both sides contributed to (though Richardson spoke out in support of nonviolence at the time). Maryland's governor soon declared martial law, bringing in the National Guard.
In July 1963, Attorney General Robert Kennedy—who Richardson had asked earlier to provide protection for demonstrators' constitutional rights—met with Richardson, other civil rights activists and government officials to broker the Treaty of Cambridge, an agreement covering desegregation, housing and employment issues. In August 1963, Richardson went to the March on Washington, where she was one of six "Negro Women Fighters for Freedom" on the program.
The part of the Treaty of Cambridge that dealt with discrimination in public accommodations was repealed when put to a vote in the fall of 1963. Richardson was criticized for not encouraging African Americans to turn out at the polls (unlike in the Deep South, black citizens in Cambridge were permitted to vote). Richardson countered that African Americans should not have to vote to obtain rights that were already due to them.
In May 1964, Richardson led a protest when Alabama's segregationist governor, George Wallace, visited Cambridge. It was only in July 1964—the same month that the Civil Rights Act became law—that the National Guard permanently withdrew from the city. Richardson resigned from the CNAC in the summer of 1964.
Richardson—who had divorced her first husband in the late 1950s—remarried in September 1964, becoming Gloria Richardson Dandridge. With her husband and younger daughter, Tamara, she relocated to New York City. Her subsequent employment included working for the National Council for Negro Women and the New York City Department for the Aging.
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