There are many who paved the way to allow us to do what we do today. Gloria Richardson is an excellent example of an unknown hero right under our noses.
There are very few people who have stared death in the face and continued to push forward. For Gloria Richardson, it was a no-brainer. The now famous photo of her pushing away a law enforcement officer’s bayonet was a true representation of how she lived her life every day. As a young Black woman during a time of turmoil, Richardson held a leadership role in activism in the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee. Her role was not only brave, but it was revolutionary, given the fact that she was a woman. The 99 year old activist transitioned on July 15th.
Women did not traditionally hold leadership roles during this time; and most certainly not Black women. But Richardson proved to be a revolutionary as she allowed herself to be on the front lines of justice, risking her life in the name of equality and the fight against oppression. Even during times where she was not granted the opportunity to speak publicly because she was a woman, she continued to be an integral part of the fight. But there were differences amongst the different activist groups during that time. Most people associated Black Panthers with a more violent approach; discounting their contributions to the Black community. While organizations such as SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) presented a more peaceful approach to working towards equality. In Cambridge Massachusetts, things were stuck somewhere in the middle. The Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee was based on the SNCC model, but differed in their response to unwanted violence. The Cambridge activist group believed strongly in defending themselves if they were unjustly attacked.
In the city of Cambridge, Blacks could order food at restaurants, but they couldn’t sit down and eat there. They were also allowed to vote, but found it hard because the schools and neighborhoods remained segregated. Although there were many new advancements in the lives of these Black Americans in the North, there were still a multitude of issues that needed to be navigated in order for people to truly take advantage of it. People during that time wanted better jobs, education, and healthcare. Unlike her Southern counterparts, Richardson encouraged her people to fight back when attacked. In previous interviews she could be heard saying that at times it appeared to be like a “small war” with gun fights breaking out between activists, law enforcement, and locals who opposed the fight for equality. Although Richardson came from one of the most prominent Black families in Cambridge, she continued to roll up her sleeves and get to work.
In her later years, she didn’t do as much physical activism. She did however, keep a very watchful eye on the things that were happening for Black people in America. She also advised younger generations on what to look for and how to navigate the unpredictable world of racism and inequality. She once told a reporter, “If everything else doesn’t work, then I think you should make it uncomfortable for them to exist”*. Richardson is a reminder that there were many faces within the freedom movement who played a very integral role in creating change and setting the stage for the next to come. It is because of women like her that so many of us continue to hold on to hope that we can indeed impact the world.
*Quote Source unknown*