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Gloria Richardson

Born:     May 6, 1922
Birthplace:   Baltimore, MD
Died:      July 15, 2021

Zodiac Sign:  Taurus

Gloria Richardson Dandridge was an American civil rights activist best known as the leader of the Cambridge movement, a civil rights struggle in the early 1960s in Cambridge, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore. Recognized as a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement, she was one of the signatories to "The Treaty of Cambridge", signed in July 1963 with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and state and local officials. It was an effort at reconciliation and commitment to change after a riot the month before.

At the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Richardson and five other women were honored by being seated on the stage at the Lincoln Memorial, but none of the women was invited to speak to the crowd. The next year Richardson married again and moved to New York City, where she worked locally in Harlem on civil rights and economic development.

The Cambridge movement was one of the first campaigns to focus on economic rights rather than putting the focus solely on civil rights. Richardson was one of the first leaders to publicly question nonviolence as a tactic. Due to the change in focus of the movement, protests demanded both economic and social equality as she wanted to target discrimination and inequity in employment, poor wages, inferior schools, health care, and segregated facilities.

 

In the summer of 1962, CNAC focused on voter registration and an effort to get out the vote. They wanted to replace state senator Frederick Malkus, who had opposed legislation that would have allowed additional industries into Dorchester County, Maryland. The lack of industrial jobs limited opportunities for the African-American community.

 

Richardson was focused on determining the priorities of the Black community, reinforced by a lesson she learned from her grandfather which was to learn about the important issues the members of a community care about most. One of the first things she did was conduct a survey of the Black community to help determine priorities.  Before collecting the data, Richardson expected public accommodations to be their biggest concern because it had been the main focus of the protest; however, after analyzing the results, CNAC began a multipronged campaign to encourage black voter registration, increase employment opportunities for black workers, and end racially segregated education by having black parents apply to transfer their children to white schools.

Richardson played a big role in the Kennedy administration’s decision to work with the CNAC as she initiated a series of negotiations to help Cambridge residents come out from under Jim Crow. By the summer of 1963, she was living her “egalitarian philosophies concerning community organizing and democracy”, and she was willing to risk her family’s standing among the black elite to achieve CNAC’s goals. For these reasons, Cambridge’s black community acknowledged her as its leader, making her one of few women to achieve that position during the entire civil rights movement. Richardson claimed that people working for the Kennedy administration tried to intimidate her into leaving the movement by threatening to reveal embarrassing gossip about her, including intimate details about her divorce and her affair. Richardson sent word to the administration that if the press ran that story, she would indeed resign from CNAC, but she would not go without a fight. In her personal life, she was not afraid of other people’s judgement, including her, at the time, uncommon decision to get a divorce.

 

Her legacy is less known than many other women in the movement such as Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height. Lopez Matthews Jr., a historian and digital production librarian at Howard University, believes that she is not well-known because “she was a woman who was feisty and who refused to back down. As a society, we tend not to value those traits in women”. However, those traits made Richardson a great leader in the civil rights movement, because she did not back down. In the biography, The Struggle is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation, the author, Joseph Fitzgerald, believes that Richardson was not in the Civil Rights movement for a career. Instead, she was in it solely for the purpose of advancing Black liberation. He believes this is the reason why Richardson stepped aside when she felt that she could be of no further meaningful use in the movement. An oral history of Richardson is included in the 2006 book Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s by Jeff Kisseloff;

 

In 2017, the state of Maryland honored her legacy by dedicating February 11 as “Gloria Richardson Day”. Although Richardson was not able to travel as planned to Cambridge’s historic Bethel AME Church to be recognized in person, she spoke to the packed church in a live remote broadcast from her apartment. Five months later, a fireside chat was facilitated by Kisha Petticolas, the co-founder of the Eastern Shore Network for Change (ESNC), at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort in Cambridge. Richardson was a featured speaker at the Reflection’s banquet, where her remarks “brought 300 guests to their feet in a sustained standing ovation”.

She died in New York on July 15, 2021. Source.

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