CAMBRIDGE — This past Saturday, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford proclaimed Feb. 11 as Gloria Richardson Day at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church — the center of the civil rights movement on Pine Street which began more than 50 years ago.
Ms. Richardson, referred to by many as the lady queen general of civil rights, fought for equality in Cambridge in the 1960s. She was a leader of the cause during the Long, Hot Summer of 1967, when the historic, black, Pine Street community was devastated by a riot and fire.
The lady queen general was unable to attend the event held in her honor because of a snow storm that hit New England. She made an appearance on a flat-screen television via Skype and a smartphone in the hands of Dion Banks. Mr. Banks is co-founder of the Eastern Shore Network for Change and was the day’s keynote speaker.
After hearing the proclamation from Lt. Gov. Rutherford, and receiving a standing ovation from an enthusiastic crowd, Ms. Richardson, 94, asked if many people were in attendance. In fact, every seat was filled at the historic black church. The jubilant gathering of community members was distinctly colorful, representing the diversity of the rural City of Cambridge. Many of Dorchester’s leaders turned out, including the entire city council.
Ms. Richardson offered a few humble words after receiving the honor.
“Thank you very much,” Ms. Richardson said. “I think that it may not be perfect in Cambridge, but I think there is a big difference from back then, what I came from. …”
Ms. Richardson praised Mr. Banks for establishing Eastern Shore Network for Change with the motto, “Where the status quo is not an option.”
The lieutenant governor thanked Ms. Richardson for her leadership, and what it has meant for the county, state and nation. His proclamation came as part of the governor’s 2017 Maryland Black History Month Program, in collaboration with the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.
Before Ms. Richardson was honored, Cesar Gonzalez, guest pastor from Seventh Day Adventist Church, Cambridge, set the tone for the day with an opening prayer.
“We ask for courage to fight for equality of every person regardless of race or creed. We ask for the strength to carry the weight of our legacy,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “We do not hide the scars of our past, but use them as a reminder of how important this fight is and how far we have come. … Father, we ask for wisdom to guide this movement that was started by our own people, like Harriet Tubman and by our own Gloria Richardson. …
“We ask that this community, our community, may start a natural conversation we must have about race and equality — that this community, our community, may lead this divided country to overcome our differences and to be one nation, under God, and finally indivisible. …”
In his keynote address, Mr. Banks rallied the Cambridge community to once again be a leader for change. He grew up attending Bethel A.M.E., and said he often visited the church six days a week.
“What we see right now is the type of love and the type of faith that it’s going to take for all of us to shift the national mood,” Mr. Banks said. “I’m inviting you to my home, not just to the church,” he told the crowd.
“This here marks a pivotal time in our nation’s history,” Mr. Banks said. “It’s also a historic milestone in the history of our great city. It’s the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement, our civil rights movement, also known as the Long, Hot Summer of 1967.”
Mr. Banks spoke about his history and the collective history of African Americans locally and across the nation, including Dorchester County’s own Harriet Tubman.
“Faith, of course, plays a critical role in creating change. The first step to creating change that we want to see is we have to pray,” Mr. Banks said. “It’s our responsibility to shatter the walls of hate and discrimination that create environments of hate and mistrust. …”
Mr. Banks said knowing the history and heritage of African Americans enables him to channel his inner spirit and faith.
“The spirit has always been with us and in us,” Mr. Banks said. “Change is in all of us. This gives me hope.” The Dorchester community must work to create experiences of “love, compassion, celebration, motivation. All of these things should be on every corner, so that no matter where a child goes, they experience that type of love. We must commit to a fighting chance. We must commit to fighting for the change that we want to see.”
Mr. Banks said Dorchester must fight for its children.
“Gloria Richardson, who we honor today … played a strategic role in one of the most prolific civil rights moments of all time,” through her dedication to the Cambridge movement, Mr. Banks said. “Her dedication to change, civil rights and justice would go on to affect local and national politics.”
Mr. Banks said Ms. Richardson’s actions were always guided by faith and implored the crowd to take action.
“Together, we are going to change the City of Cambridge,” Mr. Banks said. “We’re going to make an impact on Dorchester County. Maryland will be an example of faith, hope and change … human rights, civil rights, our rights.”
For more information on the Eastern Shore Network for Change, visit www.esnccambridgemd.com.
Bob Zimberoff is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at email@example.com.