Gloria Richardson on pushing bayonet in iconic photo: ‘I wasn’t afraid’

Richardson called on the new generation of activists to keep it up and do more

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Civil rights activist Gloria Richardson famously pushed away a bayonet more than 50 years ago after facing off with armed National Guardsmen during protests over segregation.

“Racism is ingrained in this country. This goes on and one. We marched until the governor called martial law,” Richardson said. “That’s when you get their attention. Otherwise, you’re going to keep protesting the same things another 100 years from now.”

Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) leader Gloria Richardson stands between Maryland National Guardsmen and protesters, July 1963. (via crmvet.org)

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The Washington Post profiled the 98-year-old who fought for civil rights in the 1960s. She called on the new generation of activists to keep it up and do more.

The Baltimore native lived in Cambridge, Maryland during the 1960s. While there, she led demonstrations for improved education, better employment, better health care, and equal access to housing for Black Americans.

Although she was an advocate for peace, Richardson didn’t back down from meeting force with force when protests resulted in clashes with authorities.

Richardson was arrested three times and received death threats. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis attempted to convince her to be less confrontational but her no-holds-barred approach won over militant leaders in the movement including Malcom X and Stokely Carmichael.

In the historic 1963 photo, a young Richardson gives an icy glare as she pushes the bayonet and rifle of a National Guardsman continues to be revered today.

James “Jim” Broadley, 78, who accompanied Richardson in Cambridge said then Gov. J. Millard Tawes waited until Richardson and other activists were away to call the National Guard on protestors. Richardson, Broadley and others returned to prevent any potential clashes.

“This little lady, coming right there with guns pointed at her and she takes her hand and shoves it out of the way and kept walking,” Broadley said.

“I wasn’t afraid,” Richardson said. “I was upset. And if I was upset enough, I didn’t have time to be afraid. And besides, we had guns, too.”

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Joyce Ladner, author and activist, recalled meeting Richardson in 1963 and called her a force of nature in the civil rights movement.

“Gloria didn’t give a damn what you said about her. She wasn’t impressed with King, Kennedy or anybody else. She considered herself to be as good as these guys were, if not better,” Ladner said. ” Gloria was a card. If you had Gloria on your side, you didn’t need anybody else.”

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