The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Gloria Richardson:
Civil Rights Activist and Fighter

Aug 2, 2021

On July 15, Gloria Richardson died, aged 99. Richardson came to public notice in the early 1960s when she stepped forward to advocate for black civil rights in the area of Cambridge, Maryland. Cambridge, a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, was near the plantation from which Harriet Tubman brought people out of slavery using the Underground Railroad.

In Richardson’s youth, at least three men were lynched on the Eastern Shore. She returned to Cambridge after graduating from Howard University, where she took part in protests against segregated facilities in Washington, D.C. She could not get hired by the Maryland Department of Social Services, although she was a social worker, because racism in jobs and housing remained strong in Maryland. Cambridge and the Eastern Shore of Maryland were quite segregated—some black people still lived in shacks without running water. Black unemployment was over 30%.

Richardson, angry about the conditions for black people, was attracted to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee after her daughter participated in one of their local demonstrations; Richardson became one of the few women to lead a chapter.

After continuing protests by the black population in Cambridge, the governor of Maryland called out the National Guard and declared martial law. That didn’t stop Richardson’s activism.

Dorchester, the county where Cambridge is located, proposed a referendum on integrating public accommodations. Richardson urged voters to boycott the referendum, stating it was unfair to have to vote for “the constitutional rights of our people, [thereby] leaving it to the whim of a popular majority.” It took another 25 years before Dorchester County elected a black commissioner.

Richardson remained active after leaving Maryland for New York. In a 2018 book about her, she told the author, “If everything else doesn’t work, then I think you should make it uncomfortable for them to exist. You have to be in their faces til it gets uncomfortable for politicians and corporate leaders to keep opposing activists’ demands.”

Without the Gloria Richardsons of the civil rights era, the movement would not have changed the conditions of life for so many black people in this country.