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.
Her granddaughter Tya Young said Richardson died in her sleep Thursday (July 15) in New York City, The Associated Press reports. Young told AP that her grandmother had no problem being an unsung hero of the civil rights movement. “She did it because it needed to be done, and she was born a leader,” Young said.
Richardson was a notable face within the civil rights movement. While others focused their efforts in the Deep South, Richardson fought to desegregate Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In the early 1960s, she led the Cambridge Moment alongside the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC).
The movement would lead to the desegregation of all schools, recreational areas, movie theaters, hospitals and other public spaces in Maryland. In a 1997 interview, Richardson recalled of Cambridge: “You could go in restaurants and order food but you could not eat there.”
For nearly three years, Ms. Richardson rallied protestors against racial segregation and fought for economic justice for Cambridge’s 4,200 Black residents, according to The Washington Post. She stood in the face of armed National Guardsmen during protests over segregation. The fiery, outspoken advocate of equality was also influential in the shift in tone of the civil rights movement. She inspired younger activists, who would go on to protest racial inequality and promote Black power in the latter half of the 1960s and into the 1970s.
CNAC would reach an agreement known as the “Treaty of Cambridge” with the Kennedy administration. However, the city’s local government failed to honor it. Richardson was a signatory to the treaty, The Post reports, but she never agreed to stop the demonstrations around town. The monumental passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ultimately led to full desegregation at the local level.
Joseph R. Fitzgerald, the author of the 2018 biography on Richardson titled “The Struggle is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation” told AP, “the Cambridge Movement was the soil in which Richardson planted a seed of Black power and nurtured its growth.”
“She was only active for approximately three years, but during that time she was literally front and center in a high-stakes Black liberation campaign, and she’s being threatened,” Fitzgerald said. “She’s got white supremacist terrorists threatening her, calling her house, threatening her with her life.”
In the summer of 1964, Richardson resigned from the CNAC. She moved to New York where she wound up working at the National Council for Negro Women. She is survived by her daughters, Tamara Richardson and Donna Orange, and granddaughters Tya Young and Michelle Price.