BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHTS
In honor of Black History Month, each Friday in February, the Maryland Chapter will profile a pioneering civil rights leader who has brought change and showcase how their efforts made a lasting impact.
By Jaime Walker Luse
For the first profile, I selected Gloria Richardson (1922-2021) because of her connection to Dorchester County, Maryland, where I grew up.
Gloria Richardson was born in Baltimore in 1922, but grew up in Cambridge, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She earned a B.A. in Sociology in 1942 from Howard University and worked for the federal government during World War II. While in Washington, she actively protested in efforts to desegregate a downtown retail store. After the war, she returned to Cambridge, where she married and had a family. Richardson first became involved with Cambridge’s civil rights movement as a result of her daughter’s participation in protests against segregation and racial inequality in the town. This fueled Richardson to become the first woman in the United States beyond the Deep South to lead a grassroots civil rights organization. In 1962, Richardson helped establish and lead the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, an adult offshoot of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She was a central figure in the Cambridge Movement between 1962 and 1964, leading demonstrations promoting equal access for Black residents in education, jobs, housing, and health care. While she faced criticism from some male leaders of the Civil Rights Movement based on a misunderstanding that she advocated violence, in truth, she was a proponent of non-violent protest as always the first step, but recognized the need in certain circumstances for physical force as self-defense.
In 1963, while the National Guard occupied Cambridge as a result of the civil unrest, Richardson met with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to negotiate an agreement informally known as the “Treaty of Cambridge.” The agreement provided for a one-year moratorium on protests in exchange for a plan for desegregation of schools, hospitals, and public spaces, establishment of a human rights commission, and resources for public housing. Although Richardson signed the deal, she refused to publicly support it when the local government demanded that the desegregation of public accommodations had to be approved by public referendum. Richardson called for a boycott of the vote, declaring, “A first-class citizen does not beg for freedom. A first-class citizen does not plead to the white power-structure to give him something that the whites have no power to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights.” The referendum failed.
The month after her meeting with U.S. Attorney General Kennedy, Richardson appeared on the stage at the March on Washington as one of six “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” on the program. However, the male organizers would not allow any of the women freedom fighters an opportunity at the microphone.
In 1964, Richardson resigned from the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee and moved to New York, where she worked for the City’s Department of Aging, the National Council for Negro Women, and Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited and Associated Community Teams. Although she stepped away from the spotlight, she continued to follow the social justice movement until her death in July 2021 at age 99.
To learn more about the life and accomplishments of this civil rights leader visit, https://visitdorchester.org/gloria-richardson-dandridge/ and the biography, Joseph R. Fitzgerald: The Struggle Is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation. The University Press of Kentucky, 2018.
Ms. Luse is a partner in the litigation department and employment group of the Baltimore law
firm, Tydings & Rosenberg LLP.