December 9, 2023

Hayes. Gloria Hayes Richardson is her name. And it’s a name we already know, or should know.

But the images of her staring down the National Guard, as they point rifles in the direction of her and her colleagues, begets a cornucopia of pettiness. Petty that is so petty, I’m forced to legally change her name. Because, you see, she lives by a different creed than me. Whenever I face down the barrel of white supremacy either figuratively, or in Gloria’s case, literally, I HOPE everything turns out ok. I prefer HOPE. I HOPE whatever perceived impediments that are in my way turn out to be benign.

“In 1963, armed with her icy side-eye gaze and grit, Richardson was photographed using her outstretched hand to push aside the bayonet and rifle of a National Guardsman. Decades later, that image remains one of the iconic moments photographed during the civil rights movement.” – Washington Post

On the outside, I may look “ready” when shit gets real, but nah, fuck that. I’m not going to lie to y’all on this Black Lives Matter History Month. I live by the HOPE creed.

Gloria Richardson, on the other hand, lives by the WISH creed. Her predilection, when faced by the threat of “shit getting real,” is to wish for a MF to do something. She different. And she may not have woken up choosing violence, but she definitely chose “It’s whatever you wanna do.” And, honestly, them “whatever you wanna do” type of activist are just as scary, if not scarier. Like Cedric the Entertainer when he said, “Seats foe and 5, patna,” Gloria Richardson had that same “seats foe and 5” look when brushing off the violent barrel of white supremacy.

So, going forward, her legal name is Gloria “Wish a MF Would” Richardson; Or Gloria “You Must be Out Yo MF Mind” Richardson; Or “Wish a MF Would” Richardson; Or Gloria “Seats foe and 5” Richardson; Or “Wish a MF Would” Gloria; Or “Wish a Caucasian Charlatan Would” Richardson; Or, simply, Gloria. Gloria sounds like someone who is sweet on the outside, but will fuck you up for a good reason, or no good reason at all, on the inside. Gloria is the type of name that will throw down in the kitchen, but if you put hands on her, will touch your next plate of food with enough anti-freeze that will leave you in suspended animation.

However, as great as the images are, “Wish a MF Would” Richardson’s life can’t be surmised by one simple, yet epic snapshot. It gets your attention, sure. But her impact is inscribed in stone, permanently, and that’s not just based on one or two images. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Richardson attended attended Howard University at the age of 16 and graduated in 1942. Even though her grandfather, Herbert M. St. Clair, was one of the wealthiest citizens in Cambridge, Maryland, and also the sole African American member of the Cambridge City Council through most of the early 20th Century, the Maryland Department of Social Services, for example, refused to hire Richardson or any other black social workers (especially black women). This seemed to be a wake up call for Gloria, who began to explore and study Civil Rights and it’s importance.

In 1961, when the Civil Rights movement advanced to Cambridge in the form of Freedom Riders, the town was, not surprisingly, segregated and the black unemployment rate was roughly 40%.  That same year, Gloria Richardson’s teenage daughter, Donna Richardson, was recruited by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) in an effort to desegregate public accommodations. In December of 61′, SNCC sent Reginald (Reggie) Robinson and William Hansen to Cambridge to organize civil rights actions. In Cambridge, Robinson and Hansen started sit-ins in early 1962 to protest the aforementioned segregated facilities. They targeted segregated movie theaters, bowling alleys, and restaurants. Donna Richardson aka “Wish a MF Would” Jr., was among the supporters.

Even as her daughter was thrusting herself into the movement, Gloria, however, refused to commit herself to non-violence as a protest tactic. Not to construe that she wasn’t an advocate for peaceful change but she didn’t object to forceful exchanges when necessary, and the protests in Cambridge would, at times, result in violent clashes with white supremacy, I mean “authority heads”, along with fires and arrests. Richardson was arrested at least three times along with receiving multiple death threats.

In 1962, when the SNCC-led protests began to subside, Richardson and other parents created the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) which became the only adult-led SNCC affiliate in the civil rights organization’s history. CNAC began picketing any business which refused to hire Black folks and conducted sit-ins at lunch-counters. This would lead to White mobs, more often than not, attempting to disrupt protests. The protests would often became violent. CNAC, because of pursuit of absolute black equity, expanded their movement to include addressing housing and employment discrimination and inadequate health care. Richardson was selected to co-chair CNAC.

In 1963, as the protests in Cambridge grew more and more violent, in part due to “Wish a MF Would” and her followers aka “Wish a MF Would-ites” refusing to commit to unwavering non-violent tactics, this prompted Maryland 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.

And this is how the iconic photos were born.

By the time iconic the picture of Gloria circulated, showing her figuratively disarming both the National Guard and white supremacy with her “Wish a MF Would” glare, she seemed to have reached her “IDGAF” apex. And as the pictures portray her pushing aside a rifle, ever so subtle, almost to gesture “that’s what I thought,” that image; that gesture, promoted her to the national stage.

Just as the Cambridge Movement started to heat up, Gloria “You Must be Out Yo Rabbit Ass Mind” Richardson became noticed by the Kennedy administration. This national recognition rightfully earned her a place beside some of the country’s most prominent civil rights leaders, which promoted her into the position of one of the key Black women leaders in the movement. The U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy unsuccessfully attempted to broker an agreement between Cambridge’s white political leaders and Richardson’s CNAC.

Which is no surprise. We already know Gloria wasn’t in it for peace. She was in it for justice.

Washington Post:

In an effort to facilitate a truce between Richardson’s group and White leaders in Cambridge, Robert Kennedy later that year summoned both sides to Washington. At the gathering, Kennedy tried to ease the obvious tension in the room. He asked if Richardson if she knew how to smile, a scene that Lewis, who was also present at the meeting, recounted in his 1998 memoir, “Walking With the Wind.”

Richardson recently recalled she had displayed a quick smile for the audience at Kennedy’s urging. Looking back, she said she found such requests trivial but used by some men in their dealings with women.

“Maybe it makes them feel more comfortable when we smile,” Richardson said. “We were there to talk about civil rights. That was nothing to smile about.”

Gloria Richardson (center), chair of the Cambridge Non-Violent Action Committee, leads a Civil Rights demonstration, Cambridge, Maryland, May 1964. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

In 1964, “All Out of Fucks to Give” Richardson (Yeah, I gave her a new name, sue me. Wait, don’t) led a march in Cambridge protesting an appearance by segregationist George C. Wallace at a segregated ice-skating rink, which had been the target of many of the original protests in the past. By July 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act, officially prohibiting segregation/discrimination nationwide on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal.

And the National Guard was finally withdrawn from Cambridge.

But just like the impact of her image that still lives, so does Richardson, who is now 98 years old. She stated recently, that the kind of standoffs, like the iconic one she had that will live on for eternity, remain necessary in an America where Black folks continue to face inequities in the criminal justice system, housing, health care and other areas compared with their White counterparts.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, “Wish a MF Would” Richardson stated, “I grew up in a middle-class environment, but I saw what other Blacks less fortunate than I had to deal with every day. Even today, until everyone is on the same plane, then the fight continues. This fight is still the same fight as before.”

Leslie McLemore writes about a lot of different shit for Black With No Chaser. He is also the Takeaway Kang and is the father of two beautiful girls, one of which gets on every nerve he has. The other one is sweet. So, you know, balance. 

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