It goes viral anytime the country is protesting police brutality or having a conversation about political upheaval or urging people to use their voice at the polls because so many of our ancestors never had the opportunity. It’s a picture of a woman pushing her way past a law enforcement officer blocking her way with a bayonetted rife.
Today I learned that her name is Gloria Richardson and she is 98-years-old.
In 1922, Gloria Richardson was born into a family of Black people that had been free since before the Civil War. They’d been able to amass property and assets (without having them stolen by whites), and by the early 20th century, they were a prominent, educated Black family in Cambridge (Dorchester County) Maryland who owned multiple businesses and rental properties. Gloria earned a BA in Sociology at Howard University and participated in a few pickets and sit-ins, but when she returned home to Cambridge, she mostly concerned herself with raising a family and local civic work.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was formed in 1960 and Gloria was initially resistant to the organization because she wasn’t onboard with their policy of peaceful and nonviolent protest. When SNCC came to Cambridge in 1961, Gloria’s daughter Donna went out to support the demonstrations and Gloria became involved. The first adult branch of SNCC was set up in Cambridge with Gloria as its head and she kept the pressure on Maryland officials for the next three years. Gloria and CNAC (Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee) organized freedom walks, protests, voter drives, and Gloria, as a woman from a prominent local family, was at the forefront in negotiations with local government. Typically the women on the front lines of the movement were less educated, less well-off, and had less to lose. Gloria used her visibility as a prominent Black woman to make inroads with politicians — and she was an uncompromising leader.
As protest continued to grow in 1963, local whites demanded assistance from elected officials, the governor imposed martial law, and the national guard was requested. President John F. Kennedy told protestors in Dorchester County to stand down. Gloria Richardson told JFK he could go to hell.