Civil rights leader Gloria Richardson Dandridge gives oral history
ours to make better through the efforts of positive thinking people, which includes many people here today who have that vision to step out and do the things that Dion (Banks) and Kisha (Petticolas) are doing.”
Meekins said the murals also will be an economic tool. “As people come eastbound, you cannot help but see this beautiful masterpiece,” he said. “It will capture people’s attention. My hope is people will stop and be curious with what they see, and they will want to visit Cambridge and Dorchester County.
“My hope is it will encourage investors to want to invest in the city of Cambridge and the county, especially to revitalize Pine Street and make that the vibrant place I’ve know it to be over the years,” he said. “My heart bleeds for my former student Amanda. She has guts. She took risks. The only fear we have? Answer that for me.”
The crowd responded with “Fear itself.”
For more information on the Reflections on Pine events, visit ReflectionsOnPine.org.
The mural was funded through a grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and the Federal Highway Administration, and is one of a series of murals throughout Dorchester County that are part of the Chesapeake Country Mural Trail. Find out more about all the murals at bit.ly/MuralTrail.
— The four-day “Reflections on Pine” weekend in Cambridge began with oral history presented by civil rights champion Gloria Richardson Dandridge on Thursday, July 20.
Richardson Dandridge shared stories of her time in Cambridge in the early 1960s, fighting in the civil rights movement with the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Many of the things she shared were new knowledge to the crowd.
“People are going to want to tell our story. They don’t know our story like we know our story,” said event co-organizer Kisha Petticolas. “We are capturing this moment to tell our story, foster healing, to give everybody an opportunity to be heard, and to celebrate our history on Pine Street. That is the purpose of this weekend. We are honored that Miss Gloria has decided to do this talk.” Growing Up in Cambridge
Richardson Dandridge was born Gloria St. Clair on May 6, 1922, in Baltimore. Her family moved to Cambridge when she was a young girl. Her family owned and operated a drugstore.
“As I grew up, I can’t remember, but I don’t think we talked about racism in my house,” she said. “In the second ward, I do know that I knew where I wasn’t supposed to cross on Race Street.”
After graduating from high school, Richardson Dandridge went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Howard University. She was unable to secure employment upon returning to Cambridge, because of her race, and thus focused on being a wife and mother.
“Cambridge on the Eastern Shore was different from the rest of the South. We were all in one place, in one ward. People over generations, since the 1800s, had been there,” said Richardson Dandridge. “I think that made a bond for when things came along later. I think, because we were all in one place, in one ward, it made us more cohesive.” The Beginning of CNAC
Richardson Dandridge explained that the movement in Cambridge really began with the youth. She was inspired by her daughter Donna’s participation in the movement.
“People today think everybody was an adult,” she said.
Teenagers, high school and college students were arrested and beaten, by townspeople and the police, for demonstrating in the streets. In response to that incident, Richardson Dandridge helped organize CNAC, the first adult-led affiliate of SNCC.
A survey was one of the first things CNAC did, according to Richardson Dandridge. She said that the young people involved would go around town on the weekends to survey residents about what their true concerns were.
“We weren’t really that concerned about going in to the soda fountains and places,” she said.
The true concerns were housing, desegregation of schools, employment, and suburban renewal.
CNAC’s survey was analyzed by white students from Swarthmore College. One of the most striking pieces of data that emerged was an astronomical unemployment rate of around 70 percent for African-Americans, according to Richardson Dandridge. The most recent census at the time placed the overall unemployment rate in Cambridge at only 9 percent.
Richardson Dandridge said that when the Phillips Packing Company collapsed, most African-Americans were put out of work, because so many of them held laboring jobs at the factory.
The CNAC survey was given to then Attorney
General Robert Kennedy during negotiations for the Treaty of Cambridge. A Leader Emerges
It was clear throughout the evening that Richardson Dandridge did not set out to be the face and voice of the movement in Cambridge, it was more a matter of happenstance.
“The black businessmen asked me if I would be the spokeswoman,” she said. “That was because they thought that my family could support me.” Robert Kennedy and the Treaty of Cambridge
Richardson Dandridge said she and others on the executive committee of CNAC spent weeks in Washington, D.C., negotiating the terms of the so-called Treaty of Cambridge.
“People actually think that maybe I just did the whole negotiation myself, but that was not true,” she said. “The executive committee of CNAC, they all went back and forth before that day we made the arrangements with Robert Kennedy.”
She elicited laughs from the crowd when she shared that the first time she went to meet with Kennedy, she thought he was the janitor because of his plain clothes, and nearly walked right by him.
The treaty was one of the pieces that made the situation in Cambridge stand out. In many places, the uprising of the Civil Rights Movement was quelled by verbal agreements and promises. For Richardson Dandridge and her fellows in Cambridge, that would not be enough.
“I told him, ‘They’re treating us just like they treated you all as Irish, when you came to this country,’” she said. “That made him stop. Then we gave him the (CNAC) survey report, and it went on from there. We thought that he would be the proper person because, when his brother was running for president, they said he could really get nasty and push people around.” Public Accommodations As first shown in the CNAC survey, public accommodations were not particularly at the
top of the list of concerns for African-Americans in Cambridge.
“We’ve been here for generations,” Richardson Dandridge said of their thinking. “Why should we vote on whether we can go into some little soda fountain?”
The group also knew that federal legislation was expected to address that issue soon, she said.
In speaking about a group photo at the signing of the Treaty of Cambridge, Richardson Dandridge said that the men urged her to change her stance on including measures for public accommodation.
“They were the ones that put the public accommodations in,” she said. “They came out at lunchtime and told me I put myself out on a limb of a tree and was sawing it off.”
She refused to back down, however, and continued to fight for what the people of Cambridge truly wanted and were endangering their lives to achieve. Women in the Movement
One of the questions Richardson Dandridge received during the question and answer portion of the evening was about the role of women in the movement.
“My first contact with some kind of group disturbance (by women) was when they were sending the Maryland State troopers, shortly after I was asked to be spokesperson, marching through the second ward,” she said. “I was on the street. I went up there to see what was happening, and the men were hiding in the corners, yelling to get off the street. I got half way down Pine Street, and there were about ten women cutting the tires of the police cars.”
She said that men and women of the time did what they had to do, and the gender distinction was a factor that people have begun to talk about more recently.
“If it’s your life, you have to give up all those little kind of things,” she said.
When asked why she thought the role of women has been buried in the narrative over the course of the last fifty-plus years, she said, “That’s a control mechanism that society set up.” General Gelston and the National Guard
Richardson Dandridge spoke respectfully of General George Gelston of the National Guard. He was the leader of the National Guard in Cambridge through their occupation in the 1960s.
“I think Gelston was very fair to us,” she said. “He would lock you up, but I think he won over the black people in Cambridge, because when he died, most people thought the government had killed him, because he had not done what the government wanted.
“His first week there, the sheriff had beat somebody that was arrested that was black. What he did was pulled out all the sheriffs and all the police to put his guard in there. He said he was not going to have any more people being beaten.”
She spoke also about the incident that led to the famous photo of her brushing off the gun of a guardsman in the street.
“I thought there were bullets flying. We all tried to get out the door, like one of those old-time comedies,” said Richardson Dandridge. “When I got out there, there were local black folks out on the street. John Lewis was over there having a prayer circle. I told him he had to leave because if there were bullets, I wanted people to get out of the street and go hide somewhere and fire back.”
The incident was started when an African-American man walking home from work was called the N-word by a guardsman. According to Richardson Dandridge, the man was well educated and smart, but had fallen into alcoholism upon returning to Cambridge and its economic climate. She said he retaliated at the derogatory remark, and that began the incident. Boycotting Race Street Retail
CNAC and Richardson Dandridge quickly discovered that it was quite easy to keep folks from shopping in the white business district on Race Street.
“Maybe we couldn’t cross Race Street, but it came to a point that Race Street couldn’t cross us,” said Richardson. “You could put maybe just three or four people on the street, picketing, and the people across Race Street would be scared to come to those stores and shop, even though nobody was going to do anything to them. So they stopped shopping where all the white business district was.
“That’s why the families went broke because the retail stores were not selling anything. It’s because we found out that you could put three or four kids on the street with a sign, and that meant nobody would go and shop.”
Though Richardson Dandridge was not living in Cambridge at the time of the fire on Pine Street, she said she feels that the boycott and involvement of the black businessmen is what caused the fire company to let businesses burn.
“I really think that during the Rap Brown, they say riots, the incident with Rap Brown, I think they let that place burn down because they knew the black businessmen in Cambridge were also supporting the boycott,” she said. “They were glad to see the stores and restaurants and motels and such, that the black people had built up, were burnt down.
“I think also why they let that place (Pine Street) burn down, is that the black businessmen hired and paid for buses, the gasoline, and the drivers to take people out to Salisbury and Easton to shop.” March on Washington
“Let’s be clear about the March on Washington,” Richardson Dandridge said. “Martin and SNCC both had to fight like hell to get anyone to the March on Washington. That’s why Martin Luther King was the last person speaking on that stage.”
Richardson Dandridge briefly described her experience at the March on Washington. She said that the people she was depending on for a ride were late picking her up from the hotel, and when she got there, the women were then separated from the men and directed to their own tent.
The ladies in the tent with Richardson Dandridge, she said, excused themselves
to the restroom, and meanwhile, she was doing an interview by satellite with press in England.
Finally, someone came to her in the tent and asked what she was doing there. When she said she was waiting for the other ladies to return, she was informed that they were already on the stage. She was led through the crowd and onto the stage in time to be recognized, but all she was allowed to say was ‘Hello.’ Dr. King’s Cancelled Visit to Cambridge
When the movement was beginning in Cambridge, it was suggested that the activists try to coordinate a visit from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“When we first started out, even before I was supposedly spokesperson of CNAC, we would have meetings, and once the SNCC people left, you know, you kind of wonder what’s next,” Richardson Dandridge said. “We were at St. Luke’s Church, and the people down there said, ‘Well, let’s have Martin come in.’
“We were a little town that could probably only raise $300. It would cost $3,000 and his calendar was full for the next two years. We didn’t want to wait two years. I think that was the best thing that happened to us because we had to find our way to do this, that, and the other ourselves.”
Richardson Dandridge explained that as the movement progressed, Cambridge began to be covered more and more in the press. She said they were on TV every night, even in the North. They were in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun.
“It was at that point that Martin announced he was coming in to see what was going on in Cambridge,” she said. “So, there was enough unity among the 500-600 people here, they didn’t want him anymore. They had a press conference and told him that if he came, we would meet him on the Choptank River Bridge and stop him. So he didn’t come.’
She continued, “Of course,
at that time, he was young. He wasn’t the great icon that he is now. That’s actually what happened in Selma. They made a mistake in inviting him there, and now you don’t hear anything about the two years that people fought and suffered. SNCC had been there for three years.” Malcom X
Richardson Dandridge said that she agreed more with the views of Malcolm X than with Dr. King.
“People that used to live in Cambridge, younger people that had moved away, would come home and tell me about this guy named Malcolm,” she said.
She said she did not think much about Malcolm X until she heard him speak for the first time. She was in Detroit for a conference, and was invited to a local church where he was speaking.
In trying to describe the affect his message had, she was at a loss for words.
“What I felt then, and what I feel now, I think this country killed him,” she said. “They couldn’t allow him to go across this country just talking and exciting people the way he could do that. And he was clean.”
Richardson Dandridge was also honored earlier this year when, in honor of Black History Month, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford presented her with a proclamation, declaring Feb. 11 Gloria Richardson Day in Mar yland.
The ceremony was held at Bethel African Methodist Church in Cambridge, with Richardson Dandridge participating via Skype.
“Maryland recognizes the courageous leadership and commitment of Gloria H. Richardson during the civil rights moment of the 1960s,” Rutherford said. “During a time of racial segregation, Gloria H. Richardson became one of the strongest advocates for economic rights, as well as desegregation. Maryland is proud to join in honoring Gloria H. Richardson for her contributions in the fight to achieve racial equality during a defining era of our nation’s struggle for civil rights for all.”
This was the first time a living person has been honored by the State of Maryland with a day set aside for their memory.
Another milestone in Dorchester County this year was the opening of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in March.
Tubman was born in Dorchester County and lived there as a slave until she was nearly 30 years old. She escaped slavery in 1849, yet risked her life to return to the Eastern Shore many times to help others in their journey to freedom. She helped about 70 slaves escape and led them north. Some went as far north as Canada.
The state park, located in Church Creek, is about 17 acres and features a 10,000-square foot Leadership in Energy and Environment Design Silver rated visitor center, legacy garden and an open-air pavilion with a stone fireplace.
“As a state and as a nation, we’ve come a long way since the days when Harriet Tubman walked these very lands. But here in Maryland, we will never forget that we owe much of that progress to trailblazers like Harriet Tubman, who paved the way for so many others,” Governor Larry Hogan said.
“Reflections on Pine: Cambridge commemorates civil rights, community & change” compounds on these two momentous occasions that have already happened in 2017.
The Eastern Shore Network for Change (ESNC), along with its many community stakeholders, commemorated the Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge with the four-day series of events from Thursday, July 20 through Sunday, July 23.
Eastern Shore Network for Change was founded by Petticolas and Dion Banks in 2012 with a mission to raise awareness of issues in Dorchester County, Maryland that disproportionately impact the African-American community, and to creatively work with the community to inform, educate, and foster change that leads to social and economic empowerment.
Additional events that took place this weekend were a gala dinner honoring Harriet Tubman, Gloria Richardson Dandridge, Fred Jackson and Victoria Jackson-Stanley; a Community Conversation on Race; a scenic bike ride; unity walk and a community church ser vice.