Gloria Richardson, an influential yet largely unsung civil rights pioneer whose determination not to back down while protesting racial inequality was captured in a photograph as she pushed away the bayonet of a National Guardsman, has died. She was 99.
Richardson was the first woman to lead a prolonged grassroots civil rights movement outside the Deep South. In 1962, she helped organized and led the Cambridge Movement on Maryland's Eastern Shore with sit-ins to desegregate restaurants, bowling alleys and movie theaters in protests that marked an early part of the Black Power movement.
Richardson became the leader of demonstrations over bread and butter economic issues like jobs, health care access and sufficient housing.
In pursuit of these goals, Richardson advocated for the right of Black people to defend themselves when attacked.
Richardson was born in Baltimore and later lived in Cambridge in Maryland's Dorchester County — the same county where Harriet Tubman was born. She entered Howard University when she was 16. During her years in Washington, she began to protest segregation at a drug store.
In 1962, Richardson attended the meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta and later joined the board.
In the summer of 1963, after peaceful sit-ins turned violent in Cambridge, Gov. J. Millard Tawes declared martial law. When Cambridge Mayor Calvin Mowbray asked Richardson to halt the demonstrations in exchange for an end to the arrests of Black protesters, Richardson declined to do so. On June 11, rioting by white supremacists erupted and Tawes called in the National Guard.
While the city was still under National Guard presence, Richardson met with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to negotiate what became informally known as the “Treaty of Cambridge.” It ordered equal access to public accommodations in Cambridge in return for a one-year moratorium on demonstrations.
Richardson was a signatory to the treaty, but she had never agreed to end the demonstrations. It was only the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that began to resolve issues at the local level.
She was one of the nation's leading female civil rights' activists and inspired younger activists who went on to protest racial inequality in the late 1960s and into the 1970s.
She is survived by her daughters, Donna Orange and Tamara Richardson, and granddaughters Young and Michelle Price.