She speaks to many of us — a black woman, dressed in a but­toned shirt and jeans, push­ing aside a Nation­al Guardsman’s bay­o­net as though to say ‘I ain’t got time for this shit.’ But who was she?

Her name is Glo­ria Richard­son and at the time of the pho­to she was a 41-year-old house­wife-turned-activist fight­ing for civ­il rights in her town of Cam­bridge, Mary­land.

Born into an afflu­ent black fam­i­ly Richard­son attend­ed Howard Uni­ver­si­ty and grad­u­at­ed in 1942 with a degree in soci­ol­o­gy. Despite her edu­ca­tion she had a dif­fi­cult time find­ing work due to hir­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and even­tu­al­ly set­tled into life as a moth­er and house­wife.

Richardson’s sit­u­a­tion was not uncom­mon. In 1961 black unem­ploy­ment in Cam­bridge was 40% — 4 times that of whites — in large part because two large fac­to­ries in town agreed to hire whites only in exchange for the work­ers not union­iz­ing.

“In Cam­bridge, all lunch coun­ters, cafes, church­es and enter­tain­ment venues were either sep­a­rat­ed with white and Black sec­tions or had race-spe­cif­ic days. Schools were seg­re­gat­ed and Black chil­dren received half the fund­ing of white chil­dren. Res­i­dents of the Sec­ond Ward were forced to trav­el two hours by car to Bal­ti­more if they want­ed to vis­it a hos­pi­tal because the local Cam­bridge hos­pi­tal would not admit them.”

Richard­son had learned ear­ly that her afflu­ence could not pro­tect her from cru­el dis­crim­i­na­tion, as she told the BBC in a 2015 inter­view.

“My uncle got typhoid fever and died and he could not go to the hos­pi­tal. My father 20 years lat­er was in the same posi­tion with a heart attack. He could not get any help from the heart spe­cial­ist in Cam­bridge. I think that both my uncle and my father, had there been dif­fer­ent kinds of med­ical treat­ment avail­able, would have been alive. We were sup­posed to be one of the top fam­i­lies that white folks approved of and even with that we did not have those ser­vices avail­able.”

When the civ­il rights move­ment began to spread across the coun­try Richard­son and her high-school-aged daugh­ter Don­na got involved. Don­na joined the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee and, in 1962, Richard­son helped cre­ate its first non-stu­dent affil­i­ate, the Cam­bridge Non­vi­o­lent Action Com­mit­tee. Richard­son was asked to lead the group due to her edu­ca­tion and speak­ing abil­i­ty.

“The men in Cam­bridge asked me to be the spokesper­son and I con­sid­ered that I guess like sol­diers in the army, this is some­thing you’re sup­posed to do.”

In spring 1963 the CNAC drew up a list of demands includ­ing deseg­re­ga­tion of jobs, schools and hous­ing as a path to socioe­co­nom­ic par­i­ty. This was con­sid­ered rad­i­cal at the time because most civ­il rights cam­paigns were focused on vot­ing rights. Hav­ing already received that right, blacks in Cam­bridge focused on dis­man­tling the socioe­co­nom­ic racism of their com­mu­ni­ty. The Cam­bridge move­ment, as it was called, was the first wide-scale push for civ­il rights out­side of the Deep South.

“We drew up a sur­vey. Out of that they want­ed bet­ter hous­ing, they want­ed the schools deseg­re­gat­ed they want­ed access to bet­ter jobs and they want­ed the hos­pi­tal deseg­re­gat­ed… I guess in ret­ro­spect we were more rad­i­cal and cer­tain­ly I think they thought we were crazy.”

The city flat out refused to nego­ti­ate with Richard­son and the CNAC, lead­ing to months of ral­lies and sit ins, but the protests turned vio­lent when white cops beat a group of black teens at Cambridge’s local the­ater. Black cit­i­zens vio­lent­ly clashed with whites, in part because Richard­son did not embrace a paci­fist phi­los­o­phy.

“My posi­tion on vio­lence and non-vio­lence; I always thought that if they come to where you live then defend your­self. I always believed if they came and attacked you you had a right to respond.”

The fight­ing last­ed for weeks in the sum­mer of 1963.

“It was actu­al­ly like civ­il war, and I say civ­il war because the blacks and whites were fight­ing hand to hand. The whites were tough, the blacks were tough, peo­ple were just at everybody’s throats. And I guess all of that pent up fury came out… It was like liv­ing in a war zone. The shoot­ing at night, it would be at least an hour or two of shoot­ing. When the sun broke through at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morn­ing it was like clouds of smoke from gun­fire.”

In June 1963, after weeks of fight­ing Gov­er­nor J. Mil­lard Tawes imposed mar­tial law on Cam­bridge and the town’s may­or called in 800 Nation­al Guards­men. An 8 o’clock cur­few was imposed. The Cam­bridge move­ment began to draw nation­al atten­tion and it was at this time that a press pho­tog­ra­ph­er took the icon­ic image of Richard­son.

“This sol­dier pro­ceed­ed to put his bay­o­net in posi­tion like he was gonna charge me and that’s when I — I don’t remem­ber, I mean the pic­ture says I did — but I don’t actu­al­ly remem­ber mak­ing up my mind ‘Oh, he’s gonna stab me and I’m going to push this bay­o­net, espe­cial­ly because I don’t like sharp things.’ But in any event I pushed the bay­o­net away.”

Despite mount­ing pres­sure an agree­ment with the city was hard to come by. A treaty meet­ing the CNAC’s demands was drawn up, but even­tu­al­ly dis­solved via ref­er­en­dum accord­ing to;

“On July 23, the Treaty of Cam­bridge was signed between city offi­cials, civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tions and the Jus­tice Depart­ment. The agree­ment called for imme­di­ate deseg­re­ga­tion of schools and hos­pi­tals, the con­struc­tion of low-rent pub­lic hous­ing, the Mary­land Depart­ment of Employ­ment Secu­ri­ty and the Post Office hir­ing Black work­ers, the appoint­ment of a human rela­tions com­mis­sion and an amend­ment to the city char­ter to deseg­re­gate pub­lic spaces.

This Treaty, a vic­to­ry won through the orga­ni­za­tion and mil­i­tant fight-back of Sec­ond Ward res­i­dents, unrav­eled when seg­re­ga­tion­ist politi­cians and busi­ness­men forced it to a ref­er­en­dum. Richard­son took the con­tro­ver­sial step of call­ing for a boy­cott of the referendum—even though the civ­il rights side may have been able to win—arguing that, “A first-class cit­i­zen does not plead to the white pow­er struc­ture to give him some­thing that the whites have no pow­er to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights.” She fur­ther empha­sized that the Treaty’s focus on seg­re­ga­tion obscured the demands of hous­ing and eco­nom­ic equal­i­ty.

Richardson’s move alien­at­ed many of the larg­er estab­lished civ­il rights groups, but made her a pole of attrac­tion to the next gen­er­a­tion of young Black mil­i­tants devel­op­ing in the direc­tion of Black Pow­er. Cam­bridge, Mary­land fur­ther polar­ized, caus­ing the gov­ern­ment to take aggres­sive steps to improve con­di­tions and pre­vent full scale “civ­il war,” which Richard­son warned could come.”

Richard­son resigned after two years of lead­ing the CNAC, cit­ing exhaus­tion. She remar­ried and moved to New York City, where she resides today. Her lega­cy is last­ing. Mal­colm X was an admir­er of her work, and it heav­i­ly influ­enced the Black Pow­er move­ment that emerged years lat­er. Richard­son says the Cam­bridge move­ment is an exam­ple that grass­roots resis­tance works.

“The lega­cy of Cam­bridge is that peo­ple found out that they could fight city hall and win, that they may have to give up almost their lives to do it, and that things will change if you fight hard enough for them.”


Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­liste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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5 Comments on "The Story Behind This Iconic Image of a Black Woman Pushing Aside a National Guardsman’s Bayonet"

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This lady should be more well-known.


To be hon­est what i see is the Black man hid­ing behind her…but well


Great arti­cal!


Excel­lent arti­cle! We need activist involved today.