I honor and want to comment on the political life of Gloria Richardson, who died at the age of 99 on Thursday, July 15, 2021. In 2013, this writer, now retired, taught at Coppin State University reached out to Gloria Richardson by telephone. She had long left Cambridge, Maryland, to live in New York City.
I wanted her to discuss via telephone with my class her activism in the 1960s. She consented to participate in my class.
Most people, who knew about her, remembered her in a historical photograph. It showed a Black woman shoving a loaded rifle and bayonet away from her face by a big burly national guardsman in Cambridge.
To prepare for her talk and discussion, I had my students research her and ask questions about her Black activism. The feisty, sharp tongued and witty Richardson, then 91, responded with the intellectual understanding of a 40-year-old with style and grace.
Gloria Richardson led the Cambridge movement that encompassed the civil rights, and Black rights struggle in the early 1960s in Cambridge. Richardson, in 1962 primarily organized the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee. She organized and participated in desegregating schools and public facilities. She led sit-ins for decent jobs and equity in public housing in addition to advocating for equal education.
She signed “The Treaty of Cambridge,” in July 1963 with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, state and local officials after the Cambridge civil rebellion the month before.
Richardson drew my interest because I remembered reading about her through my ongoing research on Malcolm X. Add to the list the attention she received for not being allowed to speak at the “March on Washington” on August 28, 1963.
To top it all, Richardson was a Marylander, born in Baltimore and moved to Cambridge on the Eastern Shore as a youngster. The Eastern Shore enjoyed the reputation as the last plantation— it still does.
I talked to this legend several times before and after my class. I spoke to her about Malcolm X. She told me she was in Detroit circa November 10, 1963, to attend a national grassroots conference that Rev. Franklin, the father of Aretha Franklin, gave as part of SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference). Richardson was bored at the conference and her ride said to her, why don’t you go over to Rev. Albert Cleage’s church.
Rev. Cleage, a black nationalist in Detroit had Malcolm X speak at his church at the same time as Franklin’s conference. Richardson left to see Malcolm X.
Malcolm’s speech Message to the Grassroots remains one of his most poignant, objective and recognized speeches. His speech accurately depicted the differences between black rights and the Dr. King-led civil rights movement. He used the August 28, 1963, “March on Washington” as one of the ways to describe what he meant.
Malcolm mentioned Cambridge and Richardson in his speech: “Other Negro civil rights leaders of so-called national stature became fallen idols. As they became fallen idols, began to lose their prestige and influence, local Negro leaders began to stir up the masses.
In Cambridge, Maryland, Gloria Richardson; in Danville, Virginia; and other parts of the country; local leaders began to stir up our people at the grassroots level.”
She stood steadfastly for the right to defend oneself that Malcolm X spoke out about in opposing Dr. King’s message of nonviolence. In 2018, she said in an interview, “I didn’t believe in nonviolence, if people were coming shooting into your houses.”
Her actions spoke louder than words. For more insightful information, read Gloria Richardson’s biography, The Struggle Is Eternal, by Joseph R. Fitzgerald. Yes, the struggle continues, Gloria.
Former Coppin State University Professor, Dr. Ken Morgan is a human rights activist. He can be reached at: [email protected]