Last week we lost civil rights icon and trailblazer Gloria Richardson. In her 99 years on this earth, Richardson modeled strength, dignity, class, bravery, and so much more. I first learned about Richardson from my Black history books at home, not at school. I learned she was an organizer in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) in Cambridge, MD.
As I learned more about Gloria Richardson, I thought of all of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. All of the brave souls who stood up to police and vigilantes. All of the people who risked their jobs, livelihood, and even their lives to contribute to the freedoms I enjoy today. I thought of all of the brave women especially whose names we will never know.
I had the great honor of meeting and working alongside Ms. Gloria Richardson during a brief stint at Local 371––the Social Services Employees Union in New York City. The late president of the union, Charles Ensley, hired Richardson and other civil rights icons to work at the union, interact with members, and contribute to the overall ethos of the various social service employees.
I thanked Charles for the opportunity to meet incredible women like Ms. Gloria Richardson and Ms. Charlene Mitchell, women who personified a level of bravery I could not comprehend. It was such an educational moment for me to see these women walking among members of the union, their kind spirits and spines of steel, always ready to engage with a young person about any question they may have.
Years later my colleague Joe Fitzgerald wrote a comprehensive, thoughtful, and detailed book about Richardson. The Struggle Is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation (The University Press of Kentucky, 2018) is a must read. Fitzgerald lays out the life and career of Gloria Richardson in an accessible way for those interested in not just the woman, but her dedication to Black liberation, social justice movements, and the continuation of the Civil Rights Movement into the 21st century.
I know we were blessed to have Gloria Richardson among us for 99 years and I know so many younger generations learned from her in a myriad of ways. I would implore all of us to talk to our parents and grandparents and get them to open up and tell stories about their upbringing. Some of these stories may be painful and difficult to recall and we must be patient, but we must also be vigilant. It is clear there is a larger agenda attempting to erase our reality, our truth, and our history. It is imperative that we collect the stories, micro and macro, of bravery, daily life in a segregated country, and so much more.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and also the What’s in It for Us podcast.