You turn to us for voices you won't hear anywhere else.

Sign up for Democracy Now!'s Daily Digest to get our latest headlines and stories delivered to your inbox every day.

Civil Rights Pioneer Gloria Richardson, 91, on How Women Were Silenced at 1963 March on Washington

StoryAugust 27, 2013
Watch Full Show
Media Options

Fifty years ago this week, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, A Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and other civil rights leaders spoke at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But where were the female civil rights activists? At the historic march, only one woman spoke for just more than a minute: Daisy Bates of the NAACP. Today we are joined by civil rights pioneer Gloria Richardson, the co-founder of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee in Maryland, which fought to desegregate public institutions like schools and hospitals. While Richardson was on the program for the March on Washington, when she stood to speak she only had a chance to say hello before the microphone was seized. Richardson is the subject of a pending biography by Joseph R. Fitzgerald, “The Struggle is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation.” Richardson, 91, joins us to discuss the 1963 March on Washington and the censorship of women speakers; the Cambridge Movement to desegregate Maryland; her friendship with Malcolm X; and her assessment of President Obama and the civil rights struggle today.

Related Story

StoryAug 21, 201350 Years Later, the Untold History of the March on Washington & MLK’s Most Famous Speech
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today is the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which brought hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital. It’s considered one of the most significant civil rights gatherings in history. Events marking the occasion are scheduled throughout the country Wednesday, including a speech by President Obama at the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

King was joined by the future congressman, John Lewis; union leader A. Philip Randolph; march organizer, Bayard Rustin; Roy Wilkins of the NAACP; and others on the stage. But where were the female speakers at the March on Washington? Included on the program to sing on August 28, 1963, were Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson, but the only woman scheduled to actually speak at the rally was Myrlie Evers, widow of assassinated NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers. When she couldn’t make it, organizers reportedly asked Daisy Bates to speak in her place.

Bates was the former president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and also a longtime board member of the national NAACP. In 1957, she helped to enforce the Supreme Court’s school desegregation rulings by working with a group of teenagers later known as the Little Rock Nine. She helped recruit the nine black teenagers and escorted them through irate mobs of white adults and into their first classes at Little Rock Central High School, a previously all-white institution. As a result, Bates and her husband Lucious lost their business. She was jailed, threatened, and the Klu Klux Klan burned an eight-foot cross on her lawn. This is her entire speech on August 28, 1963, 50 years ago Wednesday.

DAISY BATES: Mr. Randolph, friends, the women of this country, Mr. Randolph, pledge to you, to Martin Luther King, Roy Wilkins and all of you fighting for civil liberties, that we will join hands with you as women of this country. Rosa Gragg, vice president; Dorothy Height, the National Council of Negro Women; the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; the Methodist Church women—all the women—pledge that we will join hands with you. We will kneel-in, we will sit-in, until we can eat in any corner in the United States. We will walk until we are free, until we can walk to any school and take our children to any school in the United States. And we will sit-in, and we will kneel-in, and we will lie-in, if necessary, until every Negro in America can vote. This we pledge you, the women of America.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Daisy Bates of the NAACP speaking at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. She spoke for just over a minute.

While many women played a key role in organizing the march and the civil rights struggle, in general, they went largely unrepresented at the march. At first there were no women included in the day’s lineup of speakers. Then Bates was added as part of a tribute to Negro women fighters for freedom. She is listed on the day’s official program, along with Diane Nash, Mrs. Medgar Evers and Mrs. Herbert Lee, both wives of slain civil rights organizers, as well as Rosa Parks and Gloria Richardson.

Richardson was actually handed the microphone and managed to say hello to the crowd before it was snatched away from her. She was not allowed to finish her speech. Now 91 years old, Gloria Richardson was then co-founder of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee in Maryland, which was in the midst of a campaign to desegregate public institutions like schools and hospitals. She went on to be friends with Malcolm X and is the subject of a pending biography by Joseph R. Fitzgerald called The Struggle is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation. Well, Gloria Richardson today joins us on Democracy Now!

Welcome to Democracy Now!

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you take us to that day, to August 28th, 1963, how you were chosen to speak, even if in the end you only got to say hello?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Well, we were in Cambridge, Maryland, as a result of the Baltimore Route 40 uproar the year before, when students came from the South and CORE to desegregate the restaurants on Route 40. They came down on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and that’s where I’m from. There’s a—Chesapeake Bay divides us, and we’re over here, and it’s probably about—was then about like Mississippi. But in the meantime, my cousin and uncle were doing the bail bond as they stopped off at towns chasing the governor of the state down to Crisfield, because he would not give on the Route 40 stuff. On their way back to go back to Baltimore, my cousin told them, “Well, this is a totally segregated town. I mean, why don’t you all stop off there?” And they dropped off two field secretaries from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. From there, although we lived in a segregated bubble, in a segregated ward, we had our own city council person and had been there for 40 or 50 years, and who happened to be my grandfather, but totally segregated—the schools, the hospital, the maternity wards. One bed for black women, and if that—if they needed that, then there were no beds. And it was kind of calm.

But when the CORE and the SNCC came in and had a rally, just hundreds of people out of that community went to the rally and, from there, started the uproar that ended with the National Guard coming in for 18 months. Also, that—initially, I had not been involved. I was just watching. It was my daughter and her friends that were doing the demonstrating. But eventually, the so-called black leadership and white leadership got together and said, “Well, we can’t make any decisions about” — it was public accommodations then — “about this until there’s peace.” Well, one week passed, two, three, four months, and the young people were—started getting very kind of depressed. And the parents who backed them went to SNCC and asked if we could have—form a group there, because we were adults. And so, we were the first and I think only adult group that SNCC had. And we began organizing, and they came back, and then the whole town was involved.

I think because we, on July—in July, before the march, had signed an agreement, written agreement, with Robert Kennedy and the Department of Justice in terms of five demands we had—desegregate the hospital, course desegregate the schools and the buses, provide new housing, and one or two other things, but that had happened, come out of a survey we did. Swarthmore kids took that back their school, and the professors did the correlations. Public accommodations was the last thing on that list. Everything else, beginning from the top, was more important to them.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did you go from that to the March on Washington?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: So, because of the National Guard and all the publicity, I had to say in the end that ABC, NBC, those people were stationed around that town, and it was so much—I mean, it was everything—gunfire, you know, Molotov cocktails. After the demonstrations, because the white folks in the town wanted to be sure all of this was stopped, and I think the leadership in the town, the aristocratic leadership, paid people to come in and create a disturbance. So, and Cambridge was at the—in the Washington-[inaudible] area, was almost nightly on the news. So I guess once Anna Arnold Hedgeman insisted on women being in there, that had to be, you know, one of the people. And I understand there was a whole argument whether I was SNCC or NAACP. We had long given up NAACP in that town for—because they were ineffective. So, that’s how.

Then I was a coordinator for the Eastern Shore to get the buses and people to go to the march. And about two weeks before the march, they called and asked, and I would have two minutes to speak, and “Please, dress up. Don’t wear” — jeans now, but dungarees. So, I went out and found a denim skirt. So, there may have been multiple things in terms of them taking the mic away, because, one, we weren’t the MLK model, as we developed, and we were not doing once-a-year speeches. It was a daily kind of thing for almost a year and a half.

AMY GOODMAN: We were just showing a picture of you, a famous picture of you pushing the—right next to the bayonet of the National—

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh, yes, they were trying to—he was going to stab me, so I had to push it. But anyhow, and they came because we weren’t supposed to be demonstrating out there to demonstrate, and we had been at a little shoeshine shop with General Gelston, with him trying to stop—tell us no, and we’re trying to say, “Yes, we’re going to do it,” when a whole lot of—we thought they were bullets. I don’t know what he thought. He may have known what it was, but it happened to be tear gas. But when we—I rushed out, and all the people were in the street. And then this guy started coming toward me. I thought he’s got to be crazy. And I don’t even know why I pushed the gun, but I know I was furious at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: But so, back to August 28th. You’re asked to speak. You all go on buses to Washington.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yes, I went to the—we had hotel accommodations, and they came and got me to take me to the march. I was late, but that wasn’t because of me. They had to—and took me to the tent. When I got to the tent, the women were all there. They got up after a while and said they were going to the ladies room and would be back. So I sat and waited for them to come back. In the meantime, I was doing some interviews. But then, all of a sudden, Bayard Rustin popped up and said, “What are you doing sitting here in the tent?” And I said, “I’m sitting here waiting,” and explained to him that I was sitting here waiting for them. “Oh, no,” he said. “Come, go with me.” So I went. He took me through the crowd to the stage, and that’s when—

AMY GOODMAN: There you saw Lena Horne?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Lena Horne, and Josephine Baker was really—I was really like—

AMY GOODMAN: The great singer.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: “Oh, wow!” Yes. And they said to me, “They’ve taken your chair away.” Well, it proved they had chairs for the women—I guess for everybody maybe that was named, with a banner across it. So, and asked me, “You should raise hell.” I said—I thought, no, I don’t have to do that. We’re out in the streets, so I said to them, “No, I see a lawyer back there, and I have a problem, so I’m going to go back and talk with him.” And that’s essentially what happened. I think with Lena—and I can’t remember exactly how this happened, but she was taking Rosa Parks around to European satellite stations and saying, “This is the woman that started Montgomery. This is who did that.” So, when I saw her doing that, I joined her.

AMY GOODMAN: But, I mean, this is amazing. Rosa Parks was there, but she was not asked to speak.


AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Parks, who launched Dr. Martin Luther King—


AMY GOODMAN: —in Montgomery.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: And that’s why Lena was taking and saying, “This is the woman that…” So I joined that little effort and went with them to two or three places and then back on the stage. I don’t think any of it really soaked into me until afterwards. And I must say, I probably wouldn’t even have gone that far to participate. I only found out in the last two or three weeks on the Internet that they had a separate place for—separate street for the women to march from. Then when I look at the pictures, it is totally men, and most of whom had not been out in those streets.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your name is called to speak.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yes, they called—they called the name, and I went up. People kept saying, “Go up anyhow.” And I—so I went up. So, I said hello, and I really, by that time, was so annoyed, I was going to tell them, “You all just sit here until they pass that civil rights bill, even if it is a weak one.” And I said, “Hello.” And they took—so, I guess they were right, because—

AMY GOODMAN: And they pulled the mic from your mouth.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh, yeah, they pulled it, but had one of the marshals. Then they came after—I don’t think I heard Daisy Bates speak, but they came and got me—

AMY GOODMAN: With Lena Horne.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: —and Lena Horne, and told us, “Oh, you all may get mobbed or create a mob, and so come on and go with me. We’re going to put you in a taxi and send you back to the hotel.” So we did that, and we heard just part of Martin’s speech on the radio in the taxi. But in retrospect, I think it was because she was determined to see that Rosa Parks was recognized, and I had worn the denim skirt and hadn’t dressed up properly and was a woman, and a series of things.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Our guest is Gloria Richardson. She was on the stage at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom when she was co-founder of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee in Maryland, and she was slated to speak, only got out the word “hello” before the mic was taken from her. When we come back, we’ll continue the discussion of the civil rights movement at the time and also hear from Malcolm X, when he recognized Gloria Richardson in his speech, his “Message to the Grass Roots.” Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” sung by Marian Anderson at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And interestingly, a little footnote to that, it turns out that the Justice Department had control of the microphone, and if there was a call for insurrection, they were going to cut the mic and play a recording of not Marian Anderson, but Mahalia Jackson singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Sort of gives a new meaning to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

Well, this is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report, and our guest for the hour is Gloria Richardson, Gloria Richardson who was on the program to speak on August 28th, 1963. Only one woman addressed the crowd. It was just over a minute. It was Daisy Bates of the NAACP. When Gloria Richardson got the mic, it was taken from her. But she was recognized as a civil rights pioneer around the country. I want to go to Malcolm X speaking in November 1963. This was less than three months after the March on Washington. He delivered his famous “Message to the Grass Roots” at Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference in Detroit. During the speech, Malcolm mentions Gloria Richardson, our guest today, by name.

MALCOLM X: When Martin Luther King failed to desegregate Albany, Georgia, the civil rights struggle in America reached this low point. King became bankrupt almost as a leader, plus even financially, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was in financial trouble. Plus, it was in trouble, period, with the people, when they failed to desegregate Albany, Georgia. Other Negro civil rights leaders, of so-called national stature, became fallen idols. As they became fallen idols, began to lose their prestige and influence, local Negro leaders began to stir up the masses. In Cambridge, Maryland, Gloria Richardson; in Danville, Virginia, and other parts of the country, local leaders began to stir up our people at the grassroots level. This was never done by these Negroes, whom you recognize, of national stature. They controlled you, but they never incited you or excited you. They controlled you. They contained you. They kept you on the plantation.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Malcolm X delivering his “Message to the Grass Roots” speech in November of 1963, less than three months after the March on Washington. In that same speech, he goes on to criticize the, quote, “Big Six,” the six leading civil rights organizers at the time: Martin Luther King, James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young.

MALCOLM X: But the white man put the Big Six ahead of it, made them the march. They became the march. They took it over. And the first move they made after they took it over, they invited Walter Reuther, a white man. They invited a priest, a rabbi and an old white preacher. Yes, an old white preacher. The same white elements that put Kennedy in power—labor, the Catholics, the Jews and liberal Protestants—same clique that put Kennedy in power joined the march on Washington.

It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What you do? You integrate it with cream; you make it weak. If you pour too much cream in, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it’ll put you to sleep.

This is what they did with the March on Washington. They joined it. They didn’t integrate it; they infiltrated it. They joined it, became a part of it, took it over. And as they took it over, it lost its militancy. They ceased to be angry. They ceased to be hot. They ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus, nothing but a circus, with clowns and all. You had one right here in Detroit—I saw it on television—with clowns leading it, white clowns and black clowns. I know you don’t like what I’m saying, but I’m going to tell you anyway, 'cause I can prove what I'm saying. If you think I’m telling you wrong, you bring me Martin Luther King and A. Philip Randolph and James Farmer and those other three, and see if they’ll deny it over a microphone. No, it was a sellout.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Malcolm X about three months after the March on Washington, speaking in Detroit. You were there at this speech. In fact—


AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Malcolm was at the—in Washington at the time of the speech. He didn’t go to the speech, but he went to Ossie Davis’s room, and he said to him, “I’m there if you need me.”

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yes, but they—you know, they’re rewriting history now. I just saw on the Internet that some people from SNCC think he was standing outside of the room the night before, waiting, trying to get them to get him to be able to speak, which was not true, because I had—I was outside of there. He was not, you know, there doing that, and certainly, with that kind of speech, would not have had been participating in that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gloria Richardson, talk about the differences. And you were at this speech that Malcolm X gave in Detroit.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yes. Well, there had been a grassroots conference that Reverend Franklin, who was at that time Aretha Franklin’s father, had organized for SCLC, because they wanted to move to the North, which I suppose also feeds into the Malcolm part about they were losing their reputations and stuff in the South.

AMY GOODMAN: Meaning move the movement to the North.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Move the SCLC—no, not the movement, the SCLC part of the movement to the North. And I was at the conference. I was bored. But somebody there told me, as I came out one of the workshops, that “You’re in the wrong place. You need to go over to Reverend Cleage” — and I had not heard of him before — “Reverend Cleage’s church.” And—but when they said, “But that’s—and I think Malcolm is going to be there,” so I thought, well, I’ve never really heard him speak nor met him, so I said, “OK, fine.” So the people I was staying with took me over there. A man from Cambridge that had gone through medical school had a clinic in Detroit, very middle-class. And he took me and sat while Malcolm spoke. I think, by the next morning, his whole head was turned around. And he was—I said, “Wait a minute, you know, you know you have a different position over here. You need to calm down.” But he made that speech, and we talked some, and then we invited him to Cambridge.

AMY GOODMAN: You invited Malcolm X.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Malcolm X to Cambridge. But he had gone to Europe, and there was some confusion. And, actually, I think it was that Louis Farrakhan they sent. They sent a man from Washington, and we were having this big demonstration, and he was just horrible. I mean, we always thought of the Muslim people being strong—touch me, I’ll fight—and stuff. But the group there in Cambridge said, “No, you know, we don’t have any part in this.” And when he gave his speech, you could just see people in the audience—you know, we were supposed to be having a demonstration after—going getting just blah, what. But, so he never really got there. Adam Clayton Powell did. But the very fact that he had mentioned Cambridge and that they knew that there was a connection there, that we could go into meetings and say, “Well, either deal with us, or you have Malcolm X come in town here,” and they would get just hysterical. The police chief said, “Oh, no!” But that—am I answering your question? Because you said—

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah. Let me go to break—


AMY GOODMAN: —and we’re going to come back and continue this discussion about the movement at the time—


AMY GOODMAN: —and where it is today. We’re talking to Gloria Richardson, on the stage at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, co-founder of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee in Maryland. She should have spoken at the march. She got a “hello” out before the microphone was taken. But she was on the program. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report . We’re putting the women back into that march today, with Gloria Richardson, now 91 years old, living here in New York City. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “How I Got Over,” sung by Mahalia Jackson at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I’m Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, and our guest is Gloria Richardson, Gloria Richardson who was on that stage. In fact, did you meet Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson? Did you hear—

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Mahalia Jackson, because she wanted me to go with her to Baltimore. She was appearing somewhere the next night on stage. But I couldn’t do that at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: It was Mahalia Jackson who got—

GLORIA RICHARDSON: It was Mahalia Jackson. But with Marian Anderson, I had gone—

AMY GOODMAN: The opera singer.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: —when I was in school in Washington, when they were preventing her from singing, the DAR, and she had—and Eleanor Roosevelt got her to sing—

AMY GOODMAN: This was Daughters of the American Revolution, were preventing her—

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yes, from singing.

AMY GOODMAN: —from singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: I think she ended up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial because—because of Eleanor Roosevelt.


GLORIA RICHARDSON: And so, I had been in school then, and I had gone out there when that happened. And so—and also, my mother knew her, because she was friends with her husband’s family.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to turn—before we turn to Ella Baker, who is a person a lot of young people haven’t heard of—


AMY GOODMAN: —but you knew well, I want to get to John Lewis, because John Lewis was forced to change his speech, the 13-term congressmember right now. He was at the time the chair of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, only surviving speaker of the 1963 march, now congressmember from Georgia. This is what he said at the original march.

JOHN LEWIS: We come here today with a great sense of misgiving. It is true that we support the administration’s civil rights bill. We support it with great reservation, however. Unless Title III is put in this bill, there’s nothing to protect the young children and old women who must face police dogs and fire hoses in the South while they engage in peaceful demonstration.

In its present form, this bill will not protect the citizens of Danville, Virginia, who must live in constant fear of a police state. It will not protect the hundreds and thousands of people that have been arrested upon trumped charges. What about the three young men, SNCC field secretaries in Americus, Georgia, who face the death penalty for engaging in peaceful protest?

As it stands now, the voting section of this bill will not help the thousands of white people who want to vote. It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama and Georgia who are qualified to vote but lack a sixth-grade education. One man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours, too. It must be ours.

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Lewis speaking at the Lincoln Memorial. He was pressured to change his speech. Gloria Richardson, you tried to help him out.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yes, when I got to—finally got up to the stage, there were eight or nine SNCC people there, and they told me what was going on and asked me if I would go back in there and help them fight to keep the speech as it was. And I said yes. And then I went in—tried to get inside the Lincoln Memorial, and the guards there stopped me and said I couldn’t go in. So, once again, there was a barrier put up. But Forman released the entire speech to the press, and I think The Washington Post printed that the next day.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, back on Marian Anderson, just the particular facts of that story, she wanted to sing to an integrated audience at Constitutional Hall, Daughters of American Revolution didn’t let her.


AMY GOODMAN: So Eleanor Roosevelt, with FDR, got her to sing this open-air concert, right?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: That’s right, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: At the Lincoln Memorial. Seventy-five thousand people came.


AMY GOODMAN: Millions listened on the radio. She goes on to be the first black person, African American or black overall, who sang at the Metropolitan Opera.


AMY GOODMAN: The great opera singer, Marian Anderson. But let’s talk now about Ella Baker and the significance of Ella Baker. She played a key role in some of the most influential organizations of the time, including the NAACP, Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, Student Nonviolent Committee—Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Here Ella Baker discusses how the formation of the SCLC came about.

ELLA BAKER: I think the basic why of SCLC has to do with what had taken place in the '54 decision and the unthought-of Montgomery Bus Boycott. But before you can evaluate the bus boycott, you have to understand how it came about. And it didn't come out of a vacuum. There were two people in Montgomery who had functioned with the NAACP over the years, and they were Mrs. Rosa Parks and Ed—E.D. Nixon—not Ed. It’s—I don’t know what his name was, but E.D. Nixon. But where did E.D. Nixon get his fire? He got his fire and his sense of social action from being a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the struggle that it had waged over the years. So, when the Montgomery Bus Boycott, let’s call it, ended successfully, here you had a social phenomenon that had not taken place in the history of those of us who were around at that time, where hundreds of people, and even thousands of people, just ordinary people, had taken a position that put them in a very uncomfortable—or at least made life less comfortable for them, when they decided to walk rather than to ride the bus.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ella Baker. Tell us, Gloria Richardson, who Ella Baker was.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Ella Baker, although I think a lot of people here in the city do not know, Ella Baker was from New York City. But she had been through a variety of organizations—the NAACP, SCLC. And then, when those six students—was it six students? Six students, I think, in North Carolina sat in, and about two weeks later, college students, they had this huge conference of young people, and Mrs. Baker was there. And in my mind, she was the one that set them free, because SCLC wanted them to be a youth component of SCLC, and she said, “No, you all go and do—make your own mistakes, and do your own fight.” And that’s what they did, as an independent group of young students. Most people today—and when I go around—because we are older and whatnot, I think they don’t make the—don’t translate back into when these were high school and maybe one year of college, grammar school students out in the streets fighting, you know, for their civil rights. Mrs. Baker freed them to do that. That’s also why—I don’t understand why John, now, left and clings to SCLC, when she was trying to free that youth movement to go and do whatever they, you know, wanted to do. But she would come, and she would fly into Atlanta or fly wherever there was a crisis or they needed some advice, and she would come in at any time of the night, after—you know, she wasn’t based in Atlanta.

AMY GOODMAN: Where is the movement today? For example, were you invited to speak at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh, no! I just spoke to somebody the other day who had two invitations, but one they rescinded, and now he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. That was in Washington. No. I don’t think—I think Malcolm could make the same speech. I’m sure people would be horrified. I think the people that went are OK, and I’ve just seen something in the last day where there was a disconnect between the speeches and the energy and wishes of the crowd coming behind them. And I can’t—I just don’t understand, because they said that the police went and took away from a group of people the signs that said “the new Jim Crow.” That’s ridiculous in 2013. And then people like to strut around the street and say they have a black president. And he’s going to speak tomorrow. It’s going to be interesting to see what he says.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of President Obama?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh, I think he’s a nice man, but nice men don’t make good presidents. I wasn’t particularly fond of John Kennedy. His brother, yes. He was hard-nosed. He knew what he had to do; he did it.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Kennedy.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yes. But I don’t think—part of it’s probably not his fault. He did not—he did not go to grammar school and high school here. He went to upscale, royal private schools in Hawaii and Indonesia, and then came to Columbia. And I don’t think he’s really gone through the kinds of things that small, little small black boys have to go through growing up into that kind of position.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think that determines his presidency today?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Well, I don’t—I don’t think—like when he, on national TV, said, with his two children standing beside him, there was no need for affirmative action for them because they were smart. Affirmative action was never about people being smart. It was about people that were smart not being able to get into the system.

AMY GOODMAN: What about women? Fifty years ago, where were women in the movement when your mic was being snatched?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Well, it looks like the same place now. Myrlie Evers spoke, and then I saw her in another panel.

AMY GOODMAN: Right, Myrlie Evers spoke at the 50th anniversary march.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Yeah, and she spoke the other day. And then I saw her at a—in another setting, where she was explaining she was very bitter about the first thing. I’m not sure she was—because I think she has a foundation and stuff. I’m not sure she’s that pleased with this. But it was, I guess, a little better.

AMY GOODMAN: Her message, this 50th anniversary, was that people should—should embrace the term “stand your ground,” not the laws, but take it back and say, “stand your ground,” the idea that people should stand their ground.


AMY GOODMAN: Not the laws. Not the laws, the current set.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: I understand what you mean.

AMY GOODMAN: But she’s saying people should take a stand today.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh, but she didn’t use “stand your ground.”

AMY GOODMAN: No, she was saying that it should be—right.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh, oh, OK. Oh, no, but I don’t think people understand. I think they’re waiting for somebody, some preacher, to rise up in the middle and save them. I don’t think they understand that they can go out and make mistakes and do it themselves, that it has to be some special kind of person.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the message of the Cambridge movement that you came out of? I mean, you came out of eastern Maryland. Eastern Maryland is where Frederick Douglass was born.

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh, yes, about five minutes from me, and Harriet Tubman, where now the hip-hop people have now put on a pornographic movie about her. And this guy—I forgot his name, McBride or something, The New York Times is in there with this glowing two-page review of his book, talking about Frederick Douglass was a drunk, and John Brown was crazy, and isn’t that funny? So, I think now there’s some kind of concerted effort in the cultural environment to make fun of anything that historically would give people any kind of courage or nerve or desire to fight. I don’t think it’s

AMY GOODMAN: The Cambridge movement was controversial even 50 years ago, maybe, you were saying, part of why they took the mic from you. What was the message of the Cambridge movement? What was it that you were doing in Maryland?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: We weren’t going to stop until we got it, and if violence occurred, then we would have to accept that.

AMY GOODMAN: Until you got what?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Until we got our five demands, which we did. There’s a—and amazingly, after all of that fight with blacks against whites and whites against blacks, today there is a black woman mayor. There is a black man that’s head of the City Council and another black man that’s head of the Dorchester County Council. And while I wouldn’t say there’s no racism in Cambridge, but they are now within that structure. And then, because we got rid of the restrictive housing, in order to get the new housing, then there were some people over the years that moved into what I’m calling white neighborhoods, maybe 99 percent white. But two of those neighborhoods, that we couldn’t even walk in before, elected black representatives to the City Council. So there has been, structurally, I think, some change. I think that was because the structural changes that were put in at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, your role as a woman in the movement?

GLORIA RICHARDSON: Oh, I didn’t have—yes, because I thought about that earlier—I did not have a problem with black men in Cambridge. It was five black men that came and asked me, once my cousin decided it was a conflict of interest to be co-chair and provide the bail, then they came and asked me to do it. And I think that’s because not only my family, but most of their families had been in Dorchester County since maybe the late 1700s, whether they were poor or well-to-do or whatever. So it was that kind of history, I think, that made them embrace me.

AMY GOODMAN: Gloria Richardson, I want to thank you very much for being with us, for honoring us with your presence. Gloria Richardson was on the stage at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and slated to speak, co-founder of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee of Maryland.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

50 Years Later, the Untold History of the March on Washington & MLK’s Most Famous Speech

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation