NEW YORK, New York — Gloria Richardson, a civil rights pioneer who was active in Cambridge and nationally in the early 1960s, died at her home in New York City on July 15. She was 99.
Ms. Richardson’s influential place in the movement was seen during protests against racial inequality in the city, when she was photographed pushing aside the bayonet of a soldier.
Tya Young, her granddaughter, said Ms. Richardson died in her sleep and had not been ill.
One of the earliest reports locally came from Dion Banks, who on July 16 posted online, “It saddens us to announce the transition of our Shero, Gloria Richardson Dandridge. She was truly an inspiration to the world.”
Ms. Richardson was one of the pioneering women in the civil rights movement. In 1962, she helped to organize and lead the Cambridge Movement, which held sit-ins to desegregate local businesses.
She became the leader of demonstrations over economic issues like jobs, health care access and sufficient housing.
Gloria Hayes Richardson was born Gloria St. Clair Hayes on May 6, 1922 in Baltimore, to parents John and Mabel Hayes. When she was still a child, her parents moved the family to Cambridge.
Her grandfather, Herbert M. St. Clair, was one of the town’s wealthiest citizens. He owned numerous properties in the city’s Second Ward which included a funeral parlor, grocery store and butcher shop. He was also the sole African-American member of the Cambridge City Council through most of the early 20th Century.
After graduating from Howard University in 1942 with a degree in sociology, Ms. Richardson worked for the federal government in Washington, D.C. She returned to Cambridge after the Second World War, and with her husband Harry, raised a family.
By 1961, when the Freedom Riders came to Cambridge, the African-American unemployment rate was 40 percent, and the town was thoroughly segregated. Ms. Richardson and other activists created the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC), which addressed issues including housing and employment discrimination and inadequate health care.
Protests in 1963 led Governor J. Millard Tawes to send in the Maryland National Guard. The Guard remained in the city, which was effectively under martial law, for nearly a year.
In 1964, Ms. Richardson resigned from the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, citing exhaustion. Having divorced Harry Richardson in the late 1950s, she married Frank Dandridge. The couple moved to New York City.
Though she maintained ties with Cambridge, Ms. Richardson never again lived in Cambridge. Plans are being made for a memorial celebration of life to be held in the city, Mr. Banks said.