As one of the leading members of the Cambridge Movement, Gloria Richardson led several civil rights protests in Maryland in the 1960s. The no-nonsense Richardson, who refused to be intimidated by law enforcement officers, is famously remembered for the iconic photo of her pushing away the bayonet of a National Guardsman during a demonstration in 1963.
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Richardson reflected on the historic image and also expressed her admiration of the new generation of activists, urging them to keep up the good work. The 98-year-old however expressed her disappointment with the current state of racial justice in the country.
“Racism is ingrained in this country. This goes on and one. We marched until the governor called martial law,” she said. “That’s when you get their attention. Otherwise, you’re going to keep protesting the same things another 100 years from now.”
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Born Gloria St. Clair Hayes, the staunch activist grew up in Cambridge, Maryland and came from a wealthy and politically inclined family. The family owned a successful grocery store, funeral home, and several rental properties; Richardson’s uncle was a lawyer in the state of Maryland and her grandfather was the first African American on the Cambridge City Council.
Richardson studied Sociology at Howard University and began her civil rights protests there. Although some questioned her commitment because she was both wealthy and a woman, this did not deter her.
As a leader of the Cambridge Movement, Richardson espoused the need for economic justice and desegregation for Black people in Cambridge. Although her own family was well-off, Richardson understood “the need to improve the economic situation for African Americans in Cambridge, who had an unemployment rate approaching 50 percent, several times higher than the rate for the white population”.
Richardson also believed that the movement could involve tactics beyond nonviolent demonstrations although Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement wanted activists to use nonviolence. The especially brave and courageous leader was quoted as saying, “Self-defense may actually be a deterrent to further violence. Hitherto, the government has moved into conflict situations only when matters approach the level of insurrection” in 1964.
In what is regarded as one of the most iconic images of the civil rights movement, Richardson was photographed pushing away the bayonet and rifle of a National Guardsman during a protest in 1963.
“I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “I was upset. And if I was upset enough, I didn’t have time to be afraid. And besides, we had guns, too.”
Richardson also touched on how those kinds of confrontations with authorities and officials are still indispensable in modern times as African Americans continue to be discriminated against.
“I grew up in a middle-class environment, but I saw what other Blacks less fortunate than I had to deal with every day,” she said. “Even today, until everyone is on the same plane, then the fight continues. This fight is still the same fight as before.”
All historical accounts point to the fact that Richardson was instrumental in making Cambridge a hotbed of the Civil Rights Movement. With Richardson at the helm, the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) staged marches, boycotts, and sit-ins in the 1960s.