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Gloria Richardson (1922–2021), civil rights activist

by Linnea Crowther

Gloria Richardson was a civil rights activist known for her role in intense protests in early-1960s Cambridge, Maryland.

Seeking racial justice for Cambridge

Richardson became involved in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, becoming a leader of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC), an associate of the famed Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She worked to survey the Black residents of Cambridge and determined they were most concerned about severe inequalities in housing, jobs, and education. Much of the city’s Black community was impoverished, and a large employer had recently closed.

A series of protests in Cambridge in the early 1960s erupted into violent clashes and race riots, and martial law was imposed on the city. Richardson became controversial for her willingness to embrace violence as a tactic in obtaining equality. She was photographed at this time, pushing aside a soldier’s bayonet in a photo that became one of the defining images of the era.


AP Photo/File

As the federal government worked to bring order to Cambridge, Richardson became one of the signatories of Robert F. Kennedy’s “Treaty of Cambridge,” which called for desegregation of the city’s schools, housing, and employment. In 1963, Richardson was among the civil rights leaders who sat on the state at the March on Washington, though she wasn’t given the opportunity to speak.

Notable quote

“Racism is ingrained in this country. This goes on and on. We marched until the governor called martial law. That’s when you get their attention. Otherwise, you’re going to keep protesting the same things another 100 years from now.” —from a 2020 interview with the Washington Post

Tributes to Gloria Richardson

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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