What You Need To Know:

Gloria Richardson may not be a familiar name, but she was a true civil rights pioneer. The woman described as “The Second Harriet Tubman,” has passed away at age 99. Mrs. Richardson was the head of the Cambridge Non-Violent Action Committee, the woman who brought civil rights to the city of Cambridge, along the eastern shore of Maryland.

The Associated Press cited her as the first woman to lead a prolonged grassroots civil rights movement outside the Deep South. In 1962, she helped organized and led the Cambridge Movement on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with sit-ins to desegregate restaurants, bowling alleys and movie theaters in protests that marked an early part of the Black Power movement.

By 1963, the peaceful sit-ins turned violent and resulted in Maryland Governor J. Millard Tawes declaring martial law. At the time, Cambridge Mayor Calvin Mowbray asked Richardson to end demonstrations in exchange of a promise not to arrest Black protestors, but she declined to compromise. Gloria Richardson was captured in a now-famous photograph pushing away the rifle of a National Guardsman during the civil rights movement in Cambridge, Maryland, in 1963.

Richardson met with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to negotiate what became informally known as the “Treaty of Cambridge.” It ordered equal access to public accommodations in Cambridge in return for a one-year moratorium on demonstrations. The Treaty of Cambridge was regarded by many as the precursor to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Lyndon Johnson.

Mrs. Richardson was also on the stage at the pivotal March on Washington in 1963 as one of six women listed as “fighters for freedom” on the program. However, she was only allowed to say “hello” before the microphone was cut or taken away.

Why We Need to Know:

Civil rights historians regard Gloria Richardson as one of the nation’s leading female civil rights’ activists and inspired younger activists who went on to protest racial inequality in the late 1960s and into the 1970s.

The Washington Post reported that in her later years, Richardson continued to push for racial equality. After George Floyd’s death in 2020, she called on young protestors to be fierce.

“Racism is ingrained in this country. This goes on and on,” she told The Washington Post last year. “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.”