Gloria Richardson Pushed Aside a Bayonet as a ’60s Civil Rights Activist. Now 98, She Wants the New Generation to Fight OnBreaking News
tags: civil rights, African American history, Maryland, Protest
More than five decades after she faced off with armed National Guardsmen during protests over segregation, Gloria Richardson watched as outrage over the death of George Floyd prompted thousands to take to the streets.
The civil rights fighter was angry the nation had not made more progress since she helped lead a racial justice uprising on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in the 1960s. But the news images from across the country also sparked hope: While the protesters who had joined her were predominantly Black, she watched a mix of races, all marching together to continue their work.
At age 98, Richardson has not softened an aggressive stance that sometimes put her at odds with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in the civil rights movement. She called on the new generation of activists to keep it up — and do more.
“Racism is ingrained in this country. This goes on and on,” Richardson said one recent day from the living room of the New York home she shares with one of her daughters. “We marched until the governor called martial law. That’s when you get their attention. Otherwise, you’re going to keep protesting the same things another 100 years from now.”
In the 1960s, Richardson was living in Cambridge, Md., about 90 miles southeast of Washington, D.C., when she became a leader in demonstrations over equal access for Black residents in housing, education, jobs and health care in the same county where Harriet Tubman was enslaved.
Richardson was an advocate for peaceful change but did not back down from meeting force with force, and the protests ultimately resulted in clashes with authorities, along with fires and arrests. She was arrested three times and received multiple death threats.
During what became known as the Cambridge Movement, Richardson caught the eye of the nation, including the Kennedy administration. She earned a place beside some of the country’s most prominent civil rights fighters and became one of the key female leaders in the movement.
In 1963, armed with her icy side-eye gaze and grit, Richardson was photographed using her outstretched hand to push aside the bayonet and rifle of a National Guardsman. Decades later, that image remains one of the iconic moments photographed during the civil rights movement.
Those kinds of standoffs with authorities and officials, she said during recent telephone and Zoom interviews, remain necessary in an America where Black citizens continue to face inequities in the criminal justice system, housing, health care and other areas compared with their White counterparts.
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