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Gloria Richardson

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Gloria St. Clair Hayes was born in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to Cambridge, Maryland with her parents at the age of six. Her mother was a member of the St. Clair family which had been free prior to the Civil War.

The St. Clair’s were relatively well-off for their day as they owned a grocery store, butcher shop, funeral home, and some family members were lawyers and public officials. Several of the men in the family were referred to as “race men” a term which was used at the time to describe Black men who worked to improve conditions for Black people.

Like the St. Clair family, many other Black people living in Cambridge had been free prior to the Civil War. But, Maryland was a slave state and Cambridge had been a major slave-trading city.

Black men received the right to vote in the years following emancipation. But, Maryland enacted Jim Crow laws that confined Black people to specific wards in the city and relegated them to an inferior position in society. These laws not only had social ramifications but also resulted in unequal and limited access to economic, educational, housing, and healthcare resources.

In 1942, Hayes graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology. While attending Howard, Hayes showed early signs of leadership when she joined a group to picket a Washington, DC Woolworth that prohibited Black people from eating at the lunch counter.

After graduation, Hayes remained in DC to work for the federal government during World War II. Despite her college education, work experience, and connections Hayes was unable to find employment upon returning to Cambridge. Fortunately, she was able to find work at one of her family’s businesses. But the experience exposed her to the difficulties that Black people faced when trying to find a job. Hayes went on to marry Harry Richardson and primarily focused on her family for the next decade.

SNCC arrived in Cambridge in 1961 and Richardson’s daughter became involved with student protests and boycotts. Other relatives helped to post bail for the protestors. Gloria Richardson contributed to the creation of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) which functioned as a local SNCC affiliate for adults.

In what became known as the Cambridge Movement, students and organizers assessed and attempted to seek redress for the needs of the local Black community. Unlike the broader Civil Rights Movement, the Cambridge Movement was more confrontational, did not adhere to the ideology of nonviolence, and also addressed specific economic needs of the community beyond civil rights.

The CNAC continued its demonstrations which put the organization at odds with the Kennedy administration and other civil rights groups. Tensions continued to fester until they erupted in 1963. CNAC protests resulted in the governor calling in the National Guard and placing Cambridge under martial law. From these protests came the iconic photos of Gloria Richardson dismissively pushing aside the bayonets of guardsmen.

There was no single defining moment that de-escalated the conflict but rather the movement eventually simmered down. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which desegregated public facilities and education addressing several of the movement’s concerns. After several years of activism, Gloria Richardson had grown tired of the stress. She remarried and moved to Harlem where she worked with the New York City Department for the Aging as well as a few other organizations.

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