Civil Rights Pioneer Gloria Richardson Dies at 99: 'She Was Born a Leader'

Gloria Richardson
Gloria Richardson

William Smith/AP/Shutterstock Gloria Richardson

Gloria Richardson, a Black civil rights pioneer who led the Cambridge Movement, has died at age 99.

The activist died in her sleep at her New York City home on Thursday, her granddaughter Tya Young told the Associated Press.

A cause of death was not given, though Young noted to the outlet that Richardson had not been ill.

A graduate of Howard University, Richardson is known for her unrelenting determination in the fight for racial equality, having once been captured in a photograph pushing away the rifle of a National Guardsman during the civil rights movement in Cambridge, Maryland, in the '60s.

In 1962, after joining the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, she organized sit-ins in efforts to desegregate schools and public facilities, as well as push for fair jobs, public housing, and equal education.

By 1963, the peaceful sit-ins turned violent and resulted in Cambridge 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.

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"I didn't believe in non-violence if people were coming shooting into your houses," Richardson said in a 2018 profile with Topic. "It was just people whose lives were at stake and in danger and it was a life and death situation almost every day."

The National Guard was called into Cambridge on June 11, 1963. While the city was seeing unrest, Richardson met with U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to negotiate what is now known as the "Treaty of Cambridge."

Her tireless work eventually led to the reversal some Jim Crow-era segregation policies. The Civil Rights Act — which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin — was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Gloria Richardson
Gloria Richardson

AP/Shutterstock Gloria Richardson

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Of Richardson's significant efforts in the civil rights movement, her granddaughter told the Associated Press, "She did it because it needed to be done, and she was born a leader."

"I say that the Cambridge Movement was the soil in which Richardson planted a seed of Black power and nurtured its growth," Joseph R. Fitzgerald, who wrote the 2018 biography The Struggle is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation, told the outlet.

He added, "Everything that the Black Lives Matter movement is working at right now is a continuation of what the Cambridge Movement was doing."

Gloria Richardson
Gloria Richardson

Michael Noble, Jr./getty Gloria Richardson

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Even 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."

Richardson is survived by her daughters, Donna Orange and Tamara, and granddaughters Young and Michelle Price, according to AP.