Gloria Richardson Dandridge

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Meet Cambridge civil rights hero Gloria Richardson Dandridge.

Gloria's family moved to the Eastern Shore to live with her grandmother during the Depression. Her father owned a drugstore in the predominantly African American 2nd Ward of Cambridge. Gloria came from the St. Clair family who were affluent members of that community.

Gloria Richardson Dandridge:
"I guess I lived in a kind of bubble. We had just about everything we needed there except for the hospital and the fire department and city institutions. They didn't allow us to use the ambulance and so black folks got together and bought their own ambulance and hired a driver. And people for health care that was not everyday health care had to go to Baltimore to Johns Hopkins which was of course also segregated. But at least they took the patients."

"My grandfather was a city councilman for about 50 years representing the 2nd Ward. At their banquets they would bring his meals out to him rather than allow him to eat with the other City Council people."

The Freedom Rider campaign brought people to Delmarva targeting towns in Maryland near Washington where federal legislators lived and where segregation was rampant. Gloria tells the story of how the they came to Cambridge.

Gloria Richardson Dandridge:
"Then because they were chasing the Governor who lived in Crisfield, Maryland, down the Eastern Shore in buses, my uncle and cousin provided bail because they stopped of in little towns and had sit-in's and got arrested. So when they came back through my cousin Frederick St. Clair said: 'You know, Cambridge is totally segregated. You all really need to stop of there. So they dropped off two field organizers, who then stayed at my uncle's house."

"And then one day, I guess they had only been there a two or three weeks; some people came up from my uncle's house and they said they were having demonstrations. They had had one big sit-in at a restaurant and there were arrests. And, they needed someone who was local who could show them where the streets were. My daughter and her friends were making cookies and they agreed to help do it. And that began it. It initially was high school and grammar school, local kids."

"Then of course, ministers met with the white folks downtown, and agreed that they couldn't do anything about public accommodations on until the demonstrations stopped. So they ordered them stopped. At that point that is when the parents of those children who supported them, went down to Atlanta to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and since there were no adult groups at that time, asked them to support us, and let us know about their organizing, and be there for technical assistance. And they said yes. And it was at that point when the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee became organized."

Gloria's cousin the bail bondsman, decided to step down as the committee chairman because he felt he had a conflict of interest providing bail for those getting arrested. Gloria was asked to take his place. The demonstrations continued. Children, who were arrested and then released, would go home, change their clothes and go back out again.

Gloria Richardson Dandridge:
"Some of the cops started shoving them and beating them and throwing them in the cars. Someone in the black community went door to door through the town like Paul Revere. So at about 12 o'clock at night we were in the jail and we heard this roar. They came out in their night gowns and whatever they had on, all the way downtown, which was like almost two miles, around the jail. When the sheriff and the police chief to arrange for them (prisoners) to go to other cities on the Eastern Shore, those cites refused. They wouldn't let their jails be used."

Many people refer to the turmoil that happened during and after public demonstrations as riots. But Gloria says the black community had a very different perspective.

Gloria Richardson Dandridge:
"That was purely self defense from white folks coming to burn down their homes. And that happened, I guess in late 1962 and early 63, almost nightly."

The unrest led the Governor to bring in the National Guard who enforced a strict 8pm curfew for all sides. They shut down liquor and gun sales and barred outsiders at the city border. The Guard also took over the jails when they found evidence of abuse. The black community formed a sort of working relationship with them that allowed some peaceful demonstrations to continue.

Gloria Richardson Dandridge:
"The little old ladies on my community would go out in the hot sunshine while they were standing on the corner and take them lemonade, iced tea, and cookies. I can appreciate that now, but at the time I would have liked to have taken those old ladies and choked them."

Eventually keeping the Guard there began to cost the state a great deal of money. So, state officials turned to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy for help. He met directly with Gloria and other members of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee.

Gloria Richardson Dandridge:
"When we went up there this man, he had these astonishing eyes, was standing at the door asking us to come in, in khakis. And I thought that, this was just some intermediary instead of Robert Kennedy. We thought that because the President was going overseas and all around talking about these democratic United States and we were very close to Washington; and we gambled on the fact that he was not going to want a big disturbance over race next to the White House. And apparently he didn't."

"I don't think Robert Kennedy understood at first. But when we took the results of the survey we did and the poverty disaggregated form the national census; when he saw how poor the conditions were that people lived in, he began to evince interest and to see what he could do from his position."

Kennedy got the Governor and the mayor to agree to all of the committee's demands including an ordinance to make segregation illegal in Cambridge. Then the mayor and city council tried to side step this by putting the ordinance up for a referendum. The black community boycotted the referendum standing on the principle that in a democracy civil rights are inalienable and not dependent on elections.

None the less by that September the state enforced the desegregation of schools and hospitals. And by July 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed guaranteeing everyone their rights. In the years since Cambridge has faced more conflict. But today work continues to make the entire community grow and prosper.

Gloria returned her focus to her family life despite the encouragement of many to run for public office. She felt that a platform had been built that people could now speak from. During her tumultuous work with the Civil Rights Movement Gloria fell in love with and married a photographer named Frank Dandridge. She left the Eastern Shore with him in 1964 and settled into life in New York where she worked as a program officer in the Department of Aging helping senior citizens. Gloria Richardson Dandridge is 93 and only retired from that work just eighteen months ago.


Civil War on Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge Maryland
by Peter Levy
University Press of Florida - 2003