JULY 21, 1963
When a National Guardsman poked his bayonet at Gloria Richardson in Cambridge, Maryland, she pushed it away, refusing to back down during protests against racism and inequality. The image of Richardson, head of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, courageous stand appeared in newspapers around the world. The stand also inspired change. Two days later, she and others signed the Treaty of Cambridge in the office of Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.
The victory came after a quarter century of struggle. Richardson grew up in segregated Cambridge, where the communities were literally separated by a street named Race. She began her activism while a Howard University student, protesting segregated seating at Woolworth’s. In 1962, she and others created the committee to aid SNCC’s efforts to break down the barriers that barred Black residents from decent jobs, housing and health care.
White men hurled eggs at the protesters, who became targets of violence when nightriders attempted to bomb their homes. Richardson encouraged protesters to defend themselves with guns. After two white men were wounded in such a shootout, the governor sent in the National Guard, which stayed in the city nearly a year.
Richardson continued to stand up against them. “It got very scary, with the threats against us, and with whites coming through the Black community, shooting,” her daughter, Donna R. Orange, told The New York Times. “She just marched right past them.”
Although she signed the Treaty of Cambridge, she didn’t support the document in public: “Why would we agree to submit to have our civil rights granted by vote when they were ours already, according to the Constitution?”
Richardson became a national symbol, one of six women listed as “fighters for freedom” at the March on Washington. Fearing that she was becoming an icon, she stepped back from leadership, but not before her example inspired such activists as Stokely Carmichael.
“They looked to Ms. Richardson as the sort of uncompromising Black radical leader they should emulate,” Joseph R. Fitzgerald, author of “The Struggle Is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation”, told the Times.
In the book, she described her strategy in fighting the forces opposing good: “If everything else doesn’t work, then I think you should make it uncomfortable for them to exist. You have to be in their faces ’til it gets uncomfortable for politicians and corporate leaders to keep opposing activists’ demands.”