OBIT RICHARDSON

FILE - Gloria Richardson holds a photo of herself from a 1963 rally in Cambridge, Md., at her home in New York, March 24, 2018. Richardson, whose work as a civil rights leader on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the early 1960s served as a bridge between the nonviolent activism of the Martin Luther King Jr. and the more radical, confrontational tactics and agendas of the Black Power movement that followed in the second half of the decade, died on July 15 at her home in Manhattan. She was 99. (Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times)

Gloria Richardson, whose work as a civil rights leader on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the early 1960s served as a bridge between the nonviolent activism of Martin Luther King Jr. and the more radical, confrontational tactics and agendas of the Black Power movement that followed in the second half of the decade, died Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 99.

Her granddaughter Tya Young confirmed her death.

In 1962, Richardson was a 40-year-old housewife in Cambridge, Maryland, a member of a prosperous Black family in a part of the country that straddled — and blurred — the line between the Jim Crow segregation of the South and the less restricted but still unequal life of Black people in the North.

In Cambridge, Black residents could order food at restaurants, but they couldn’t sit down. They could vote, but the schools and neighborhoods remained segregated. With the closing of the area’s largest employer, a meatpacking company, Black unemployment had shot up to 30%, compared with 7% among whites.

Student activists had already begun to mount sit-ins and boycotts of local businesses when Richardson joined the movement that summer, spurred on by her teenage daughter Donna, who was one of the protesters.

Richardson was a Howard University-trained sociologist, and one of her first efforts was to survey the needs of the Black community. Desegregation, she found, was relatively low on the list; what people most wanted was better housing, jobs and health care.

In the spring of 1963, Richardson and a friend traveled to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee headquarters in Atlanta to ask permission to establish an adult offshoot of the group, which they called the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee. Richardson became its co-chairwoman and its most visible member.

Over the next few months the protests — and the white backlash to them — grew heated. During the day, whites bombarded civil rights protesters with eggs, and at night they pelted their homes with Molotov cocktails.

Unlike many Southern civil rights leaders, and despite her organization’s name, Richardson did not demand a nonviolent response. She encouraged Cambridge’s Black residents to defend themselves. Gunfights became increasingly common, and on June 11, two whites were wounded in a shootout.

The governor of Maryland, J. Millard Tawes, a Democrat, sent in the National Guard. When the soldiers withdrew on July 8, violence erupted immediately. The guard returned four days later, and stayed for over a year.

Richardson quickly attracted national media attention both for her uncompromising politics and her charismatic public image. Almost always dressed in high-waisted jeans and a white blouse, she strode fearlessly past white supremacists and armed guardsmen alike — in one memorable photo, she seems to casually brush aside a bayonet-tipped rifle on her way to address a group of protesters.

“It got very scary, with the threats against us, and with whites coming through the Black community, shooting,” said her daughter Donna R. Orange. “She just marched right past them.”

Richardson spent several weeks negotiating with local, state and federal authorities, including Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who urged her to accept a deal — a plan for desegregation and federal housing aid, matched with a one-year moratorium on protests.

Richardson signed a deal, nicknamed the Treaty of Cambridge, but refused to support it in public, in part because the desegregation plank required a referendum vote.

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