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Maryland native Gloria Richardson, heralded as ‘second Harriet Tubman,’ honored with portrait in Baltimore museum

A portrait of activist Gloria Richardson Dandridge, also known as “Glorious Gloria,” for her steadfast determination as head of the Cambridge Non-Violent Action Committee to bring civil rights to the Eastern Shore city of Cambridge in the 1960s, was unveiled last week at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore.

Richardson, who is now 97 and lives near New York City’s Union Square, was unable to attend the unveiling of the portrait, “No To The Status Quo,” by graphic artist Afua Richardson in partnership with the Eastern Shore Network for Change. Her efforts on behalf of civil rights in Cambridge earned her the sobriquet of being a second Harriet Tubman.

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The strong-willed housewife rose to national prominence as a civil rights leader after photographs were published showing her pushing aside the bayonets of the National Guardsmen who had been sent to Cambridge, leading marches and being arrested as she fought for civil rights for African Americans on the Eastern Shore.

Richardson, who was born in Baltimore and moved to Cambridge as a 6-year-old, was raised in the city where her grandfather H. Maynadier St. Clair had been the city’s first black city councilman.

She found herself growing up in a segregated Cambridge where there was one black police officer who was restricted from patrolling in white neighborhoods or even arresting whites, though white police officers could arrest anyone. Restaurants allowed African Americans to buy food, but they were not welcome to dine at their tables and had to go elsewhere.

Cambridge was a ticking time bomb that began with the closing of the Phillips Packing Co., a major employer, in the late 1950s.

"Richardson saw the fundamental problem facing blacks in Cambridge as a lack of adequate housing, discrimination in the educational process, lack of equal job opportunity and poor health. The attack was on the entire system of segregation with demands for equal treatment on all scores, including employment, police protection and schools,” wrote Annette K. Brock in “Notable Black Women.”

It was during the spring of 1963 that Richardson and the Cambridge Non-Violent Action Committee took demands to the Cambridge City Council, resulting in a seven-week demonstration.

For a time, it looked as though tensions were easing in the city as a committee headed by Judge W. Laird Henry agreed to desegregate public schools and public places.

But, after 12 African American students were arrested on May 25, 1963, for causing a disturbance while picketing the Board of Education, and two were expelled from school and remanded to correctional schools, Richardson continued the demonstrations and economic boycotts.

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Six days later, Richardson appealed to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for a federal investigation of violations of constitutional rights in Cambridge. She also taught the attorney general an important lesson about poverty and joblessness, reminding him that the civil rights movement was not just about desegregation.

She focused particularly on a segregationists’ effort to put the state’s pending Public Accommodation Law up for a referendum vote the following year, in 1964.

“Many Negroes don’t want to vote on something that already is their right,” Richardson told The Evening Sun at the time. “Public accommodations are a right and cannot be given or taken away with a vote.”

After rioting broke out in June, Gov. J. Millard Tawes imposed martial law on Cambridge and ordered the Maryland National Guard under the command of Gen. George M. Gelston to take charge of the city. Nightly marches that began in the 2nd Ward with the singing of “We Shall Overcome” could be heard as demonstrators headed for Main Street. There, whites lined both sides of the street, pelting them with eggs while calling out racial epithets as Guardsmen stood by.

As demonstrators gathered at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in preparation to march to a white neighborhood, Gelston left his Guardsmen and walked down the middle of the street and held up his hand.

“The National Guard was brought here to protect all the people. If you violate the prohibition against demonstrations, you are demonstrating against the orders of the governor of this state,” he said.

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Demonstrators sat down in the street and sang “Black and Whites Together” and “We Ares Soldiers of The Army,” as Guardsmen stood watch a block away. When the Rev. Charles Bourne began intoning a prayer — “We see each other not as colors, but as human beings with rights and dignity” — Gelston removed his hat.

Led by the efforts of Attorney General Kennedy and other Justice Department officials, a five-point Treaty of Cambridge was agreed to and signed in Kennedy’s office by Cambridge city officials and African American representatives.

After President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act in July 1964, the National Guard finally withdrew from Cambridge.

A modicum of tranquility returned to Cambridge as African American children were allowed to enroll in previously all-white schools, and board buses. The city library and hospital were desegregated. A black police officer was promoted and urban renewal got underway.

Richardson, who was considered quite the rabble-rouser, adept at getting her point of view across no matter who she was speaking to, left Cambridge in 1964 and moved to New York City where she married Frank Dandridge, a news photographer whom she had met during the unrest.

She told a Baltimore Sun reporter in a 1997 interview that when she thinks of her participation in the struggle for civil rights that she gets excited about it “all over again whenever I talk about it.”

“It was a pivotal moment in my life, and I don’t think there has been anything quite like it for me since, because it involved life and death situations,” she said. “The bonds to those days and people are still there and still strong.”

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