Gloria Richardson returns to Cambridge

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff Gloria Richardson Dandridge (right), once the leader of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, returned to Cambridge for the 50-year commemoration of the civil unrest activities of 1967. Ms. Dandridge, at 95 years old, joined a discussion of past events on Thursday, July 20 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, for an audience of over 150 people.

CAMBRIDGE ­— Gloria Richardson Dandridge was shocked when she saw the packed house Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay.
Upon entering the sold out conference room, she briefly took in the many jubilant faces of the standing, cheering crowd, and turned to face the wall for just a moment. Quickly and sternly, she approached the stage and got comfortable in one of two cushioned chairs. Surrounded by an enlarged magazine cover, and photos from the ‘60s, the lady queen general of civil rights began “A Conversation with Gloria Richardson Dandridge.”
Commemorating civil rights, community and positive change, the Eastern Shore Network for Change hosted Reflections on Pine 1967 – 2017 this past weekend. According to reflectionsonpine.org, the weekend-long event marked, “the 50th anniversary of civil unrest in Cambridge, Maryland, following decades of economic and educational segregation.”
The commemoration marks the 50th anniversary of the July 24, 1967, Cambridge riot and fire. That day in July ‘67, a significant portion of Cambridge’s thriving black business district burned to the ground, as did the beloved Pine Street School, the African-American elementary school. The day that forever changed Cambridge was part of the Long Hot Summer of 1967, when more than 150 race riots occurred across the U.S.
The riot was a key moment in the fight against segregation led by members of the Cambridge Movement. Before Ms. Richardson began her conversation at the Hyatt, Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley spoke about the importance of the movement.
Ms. Jackson-Stanley is both the first black, and first female mayor of the city. Her father, Frederick “Fred” Douglass Jackson Jr., was Ms. Richardson’s lieutenant during the movement. He stood by her side as often as he could.
Joining protests, marches and demonstrations, Mr. Jackson was fired from several jobs in the years that led to the Long Hot Summer of ‘67. Mayor Jackson-Stanley was just a child at the time.
Thursday at the Hyatt, minutes before Ms. Richardson took the stage, the mayor spoke to the crowd, which included a number of her childhood friends who she addressed personally.
“Fred Jackson did this for me, and for your children,” the mayor said. “We were children then. He did that for us.”
Pointing to her head, the mayor said, “When I was a little girl, he always said, every day, ‘Once you get it up here, they can’t take it from you.’ He said it every day, every day. … They can take your job. And they took his job, he was unemployed for a while trying to feed us. They can take your house. They can take all material things, but once you get an education, they can’t take it from you. …
“During the ‘60s, we were children. … We couldn’t come out, but we knew something important was happening. That’s why Gloria Richardson was my idol, even back then. She was tall, beautiful and very aggressive, not in a bad way, but aggressive to the point that she commanded respect.
“She was always approachable to the children because her mission was about us,” the mayor said. “You are hearing the story from the icon, from Gloria St. Clair Richardson Dandridge, very old names in this community, very important names — doctors, lawyers and council people are part of her heritage.”
Ms. Richardson was interviewed by Kisha Petticolas who hosted the conversation along with Dion Banks. Mr. Banks and Ms. Petticolas co-founded ESNC.
“Cambridge, on the Eastern Shore, was different from the rest of the South,” Ms. Richardson said. Of the African-American community, she said, “we were all in one place in one ward — people over generations, since the 1800s.”
Ms. Richardson said as the ‘60s approached, Cambridge’s black community experienced good times and crises together, as families and as a community.
“I think that made a bond among neighbors,” Ms. Richardson said. “Because we were all in one place, together … I think we were cohesive.”

Gloria Richardson Dandridge shared a stage with images from her days in 1967 as leader of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, and answered questions from Kisha Petticolas of the Eastern Shore Network for Change.

Ms. Richardson became a leader in the tightly knit community. She said she joined the movement because her cousin was co-chairman of the local civil rights organization, but he eventually resigned.
“You stepped up in a big way,” Ms. Petticolas said to Ms. Richardson who laughed.
“I think that was an accident, really,” Ms. Richardson said.
Ms. Richardson was eventually asked to be a spokesperson for the cause. Her family ran a pharmacy at the time.
“They felt that my family could support me,” she said. “So I said yes. By that time, I was going to meetings.”
Ms. Richardson said she helped create a survey that circulated through Cambridge in the ‘60s and was tabulated by college students. The struggle for integration and equality in the city coincided with the decline of the Phillips Packing Company, by far the largest employer in Cambridge for many years.
“We were at a 9 percent unemployment rate generally in Cambridge,” she said. “The black community was something like 70 percent. … When Phillips closed down, they didn’t have anything.”
Results from the survey were presented to then Attorney General Bobby Kennedy when he met Ms. Richardson and other community leaders to help broker the Treaty Of Cambridge in 1963.
Late in the evening Thursday during the conversation, a few audience members asked Ms. Richardson some questions. She was asked why Dorchester County has produced such strong women, including Harriet Tubman.
“Men and women did the things they had to do,” Ms. Richardson said. “It wasn’t any kind of gender thing until recently when they started talking about it. If it’s your life, then you have to give up all those categorical things.”
Behind Ms. Richardson, the Cambridge Movement fought for change on white Race Street and throughout the city.
“We were all in one place. So they couldn’t cross Race Street, but it got to the point where Race Street couldn’t cross us,” Ms. Richardson said. “We could put maybe three or four people on the street picketing, and the people across Race Street would be scared to come to those stores and shop. So, they stopped shopping where the white business district was. That’s why the town was going broke.”
At the end of her talk, Ms. Richardson received another standing ovation. Many members of the congenial audience quickly moved toward the stage to take pictures, or shake the hand, of the lady queen general of civil rights.

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