Saidu Tejan Thomas Jr.: Hey, what's good y'all? This is another episode of our "F Your Water Fountain" series, so if you haven't listened to our last episode, please go back and listen before continuing with this one. It'll be worth it, I promise. All right we'll get started right after this short break.
Saidu: So a couple weeks ago, we started this "Fuck Your Water Fountain" series to honor little-known heroes who engaged in acts of resistance—and looked damn good doing it. Like, a hall of fame for fly, bad-ass people who aren't really honored in a lot of other places. And in my head, I started imagining what the Fuck Your Water Fountain Hall of Fame would actually look like, and the first thing that popped into my mind was this plaque. A small thing posted on the outside of this beautiful five-storey building, with a message etched into the wood.
Saidu: It says: "All who are honored here, the too radical, too loud, too dangerous and difficult, too sure of themselves, too confident, too ready for a world that wasn't ready for them, too mouthy, way too much lip, heart, and drip, and too much sauce, too much gall and gift to not also have the audacity, too. Too concerned with their own curriculum, too often the first to step up and square up, unfamiliar with fear too. Comfortable with conflict, too. Too Toussaint Louverture, too Black, too woman, too queer, far too ahead of their time, pushed too far, held back too long, saw too much. Finally said enough."
Saidu: Most people who show up to the Fuck Your Water Fountain Hall of Fame just rush past this plaque. And today's no different. Everybody's anxious for the new name that's about to be announced and enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Inside the front entrance of the hall, near where the tickets are taken, there's a huge exhibit. In it is a shirt so fly it's only buttoned halfway up. It's the one Cecil J. Williams wore the day he drank ice cold water out of a white's-only water fountain back in the '70s, And it hangs in the hall like a banner in the rafters. And next to it is an open jar of Murray's Pomade, a set of fingerprints are still embossed in the gel, from where Cecil scooped a healthy amount to style his hair, then put on his shirt, stepped out his house, and walked into history.
Saidu: Walk a little further, and there's another exhibit. Inside a glass case, there's a napkin sitting next to an open soda bottle. The bottle is three-quarters empty. It was being enjoyed for a pretty long time before whoever was drinking it was interrupted by somebody saying something really stupid. Robert F. Kennedy, at a meeting back in the '60s, was preaching about progress to a bunch of Black freedom fighters who could smell bullshit from a mile away: James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and a young freedom rider from Louisiana named Jerome Smith. This is the bottle Jerome Smith put down three-quarters of the way through, and basically told RFK where he could shove it. And the napkin next to the drink is slightly stained, but you can read five words on it clearly. It says, "Jerome, you’re the greatest hope," signed Jimmy and Lorraine.
Saidu: And now today, there's a new name being inducted into the hall, a new light turning on next to the ones above Cecil and Jerome's. I'm excited to see what this one will hold, and our producer Aaron Randle, one of the curators of our Fuck Your Water Fountain Hall of Fame is the keeper of this tale.
Aaron Randle: I'm going to tell you about an amazing person. But before I even say the name, I have to set the scene with the photo.
Aaron: It's black and white. It's from the '60s during the civil rights movement, right?
Aaron: And it's all men, pretty much. In the background, a group of Black men, you know, they're pretty snazzy, they got their hats on. And they're all, like, at this picket line, kind of. And in the foreground, there are three National Guardsmen, and they're, like, sticking their bayonets outward, right? And in the very center of this photo is just this bad-ass woman who, like, I guess one of the bayonets is, like, coming towards her and she's, like, pushing the bayonet out of her way and, like, side-eyeing the National Guardsmen. I mean, I feel like you've seen this photo, right?
Saidu: I think I have.
Aaron: I mean, it's almost one of those photos that's so striking.
Saidu: Does she have—is it the one where she's, like—she has this, like, really, like, don't mess with me, like, don't fuck with me attitude on her face?
Aaron: The meanest wish a motherfucker would face you'd ever seen, yes.
Saidu: [laughs] Okay. I've seen that.
Aaron: It's like, it's so bad-ass, it's almost like, "Is this Photoshopped?"
Saidu: Yeah. It can't be real.
Aaron: Yeah. It's like, is this real? You know what I'm saying?
Saidu: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Aaron: But it is real. And the woman who is giving that nasty-ass side-eye, her name's Gloria Richardson. And she—I call her Gloria "Motherfucking" Richardson, because she is a total—like, it's wild how much of a bad-ass she was. Like, most people don't even know that she's a—like, who she is or what she represents. But she represents so much to just Black liberation and the civil rights movement and the feminist movement, and just the bad motherfucker movement and the fuck your water fountain—like, she's just—she's really, like, legit.
Saidu: And you can tell by the photo, just how much of a real one she really is. Gloria's in the middle of some kind of clash with the National Guard, rocking a fresh white linen shirt tucked into high waist jeans like she's posing in a catalog. The bayonet's dagger is lined up right underneath her throat, directly at her, and yet Gloria Richardson still saw fit to serve us looks. For this flex in the face of danger alone, we have no choice. We have to honor her. I'm Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. and this is Resistance, with our second induction into our Fuck Your Water Fountain Hall of Fame. Let's get into it.
Saidu: So the homie, Aaron Randle, shares something in common with Gloria Richardson. Not that they need any more hype from me or anyone else for that matter, but like him, Gloria graduated from the prestigious and illustrious mecca, Howard University. Here's Aaron.
Aaron: She was actually born in Baltimore to a wealthy family. Like, she—her family, for generations, had been successful business owners, pharmacists. Like, her grandfather was, like, a city councilman in Cambridge. When she was young, she moved from Baltimore to Cambridge. She grew up in, like, an eight-bedroom house. Like, she had money. She ended up going to, like, Howard. Like, she had ...
Saidu: Was she—wait, was she an AKA?
Aaron: Yes, she was.
Saidu: [laughs] I guessed that. Of course she was.
Aaron: Of course she was, right? Yes.
Saidu: You got money, you going to Howard, you are definitely an AKA.
Aaron: Exactly. Yes. Yes. And you know what's crazy? When she was at Howard, she actually—so a cool thing about her is, you know, usually—well, not usually but, like, you always run the risk of like, you know, bougie, well-to-do, rich Black folks at that point kind of feeling like they're better than, right? Or, like, maybe not all the way buying into, like, the quote unquote "struggle." Her family was the exact opposite. Like when she was growing up ...
Saidu: Oh, wow.
Aaron: Yeah. Like, her pops and her grandfather, they always said, like, "You need to work to be a credit to your race and to help pull up your race. Like, we need to get more folks to where we at." So that really impacted just, like, her ethos. And so she and her family move from Baltimore to Cambridge Maryland. And I don't know about you, but I did not know much about the Cambridge, Maryland, civil rights movement.
Saidu: Nah, nah. Maryland is one of those places where I've heard it's, like—I've lived in Maryland but, like, it's not—I don't feel the racism in Maryland. But I've heard that there is, like, a long history of, like, really racist stuff happening in Maryland, because they think they're, like, part of the South or something like that.
Aaron: Yeah, it's in this interesting spot, right? Like, they didn't have the exact kind of visceral racism that you might have found in the South at that time, but it was still, like, this very palpable form of racism, right? Like, you know, most of the Black folks in Cambridge were sequestered into this one ward in the town called the Second Ward.
Saidu: Of course.
Aaron: And there was a street—this is an actual thing—called Race Street that literally divided, like, the Black and the white parts of town. Like ...
Saidu: Wait, this shit was called Race Street?
Aaron: Yes, it was called Race Street.
Aaron: So, like, most Black folks in Cambridge, Maryland, lived on, like, I think, like, the west side of the street and most white folk lived on the east side of the street. And, like, the residents in the Second Ward were actually living in homes that literally used to be chicken coops. So it's just deplorable conditions. Many of the Black residents in Cambridge did not have indoor plumbing. And this is 1961, you know? Like, that's pretty remarkable to not have indoor plumbing. The hospitals in Cambridge are segregated, right? So for most Black folks in Cambridge, that meant if they wanted to get any serious medical care, they had to drive two hours to Baltimore to receive that care.
Aaron: For Gloria, this is a thing that she feels very viscerally. Twice in her life, that racism cost the lives of folks that she loved. Her uncle caught typhoid fever and could not get treated in time in Cambridge, and tried to make it to Baltimore hospitals and ended up dying. And her father had a heart attack, and he also ended up dying.
Saidu: Oh! Because he couldn't—because he couldn't be treated at the local hospital?
Aaron: Exactly. So, like ...
Saidu: Damn! So she—so she really felt it. Like, this was, like, on her—this was on her doorstep, like, in her family.
Aaron: It killed her family, literally. The racism in Cambridge killed her family.
Saidu: So what does she do? What does she do about it?
Aaron: Well, to be frank, for a long time, nothing, so to speak. After she came back from Howard, she spent more than a decade as a housewife. And it's actually through, you know, her kids that she kind of gets going. Her oldest daughter, Donna, actually joins SNCC.
Saidu: Right. And SNCC is the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Aaron: And you know at that time, it's all kids, mostly. It's, like, college and high school kids.
Saidu: It's like teenagers, yeah.
Aaron: It's a youth movement, yeah.
Saidu: Yeah. So her daughter was involved with that.
Aaron: Yes. And Gloria asked the SNCC governing body if she can establish just an adult affiliate. And they say, yeah. And this is called—it's called the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee. This is the only adult affiliate to SNCC ever. Like ...
Saidu: I didn't even know there was such a thing.
Aaron: Exactly. I didn't either. Like, I didn't know this even existed, right? And this is when shit starts to get real, right? So when she gets CNAC going. she's like, "Well ..."
Saidu: Oh, CNAC? That's a dope-ass name.
Aaron: Yeah, right? Like, it just—it hits different, you know? I like it. SNCC, CNAC. It's cool, right? So she's like, "Well, we're our own organization, and I'm a grown-ass woman and we grown-ass people. And I respect nonviolence, that's my thing. But if you blasting me we gonna blast back." Her ethos was that if force was applied to Black people, they could respond in tow. So ...
Aaron: Yeah. And this energy that Gloria is bringing is perfect for this moment, right? Because Black people, like, they are over it. They are fed up, and they want something to happen. So they start protesting.
Aaron: It begins pretty just—you know, it's formulaic. You know, Black folks protest the thing, white folks counter-protest or try to disrupt those protests, right? But what the curveball comes—you know, historically, or at that period of time, when white folks have seen themselves go against or challenge Black protest, they have always seen Black folks react with nonviolence, right? So these Cambridge white folks are like, "Okay, they're pulling this Birmingham shit in Cambridge. Let's do what we do and knock them down a peg or two and watch them do this whole Kumbaya. We will respond with peace and nonviolence, and we'll quell this shit in a few weeks."
Aaron: But then they try that shit in Cambridge, and—with the CNAC protesters. And they were like, "We're nonviolent until y'all get violent. And ..."
Saidu: We're scrapping. We're scrapping.
Aaron: We're scrapping. So, like, the aggression begins, right? White folks, they begin throwing rocks at the Black protesters. So the Black folks throw rocks back. And eventually, like, white folks up the ante and they bring out guns. And Black folks bring out guns, too.
Saidu: That's what I like to hear!
Aaron: She was about that life. She was—like, she has an actual quote where she's like, "Yeah, we got guns too." So, like, when at nighttime the white folks in Cambridge would, like, try to, like, ride by and shoot at the Black residents in the Second Ward, and the Black residents would return fire. And the local paper was reporting, and they were saying that at one point in Cambridge it sounded like a war zone at night, because you'd have white folks firing at Black folks in their homes, and Black folks en masse each had their own guns and were firing back at the white people. And this went on for a few weeks, and the governor was forced to declare martial law and bring in the National Guard.
Saidu: And she was at the center of all this?
Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. I still would wonder, like, how were there not, like, deaths?
Saidu: Right. Right. Is it everybody just had bad aim? Like, what are they doing?
Aaron: Yeah, pretty much. Because, like, literally, like, there are reports of, like, there will be gunfire throughout the night, but then you'd wake up in the morning and, like, no one was dead, you know? It's like, I don't know. Like, I guess people just couldn't shoot.
Aaron: Gloria made it very clear that, like, if you all don't meet our demands of, you know, better health care, of more adequate housing, of, you know, integration and dismantling segregation, we're going to continue protesting. And I assume that if we protest, you're gonna continue counterprotesting. And if you do that, we will continue to, you know, respond to the violence that we incur. So pretty much she told the governor, she told Robert F. Kennedy, the attorney general at the time, because this had gotten the attention of the attorney general in DC. She pretty much told them, like, "Look, we're gonna keep fighting. If you guys keep retaliating, we're gonna keep retaliating back in tow." And for over a year in Cambridge, it was pretty much like a low-key war zone.
Aaron: And it was in this time that she did two things. Two things happened. She played contrarian to many of the dominant and popular civil rights leaders of the time, like Martin Luther King, like John Lewis. And she became a darling of the more radical Black liberation figures like Malcolm X and H. Rap Brown moving forward. As a matter of fact, early in the Cambridge movement, she invited Martin Luther King to come—you know, to come and speak and to march with them. And Martin said he was too busy, and said if he was going to come he would need $3,000.
Saidu: Oh, no!
Saidu: No! MLK!
Saidu: No! He asked for a speaking fee?
Aaron: He asked for a speaking fee. And she told him, "You know what? We good. We good on that."
Aaron: And then get this, though. Two years later when, you know, martial law has happened, the National Guards happening, when she's talking to Robert Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, the president, is speaking about Cambridge, Maryland, MLK offers to come back into town in, like, '63. And Gloria's like, "Nah, bro. We cool. We got this. We're okay."
Saidu: So after Gloria starts popping, he want to come back and do it for free? But she's like, "Nah, nah, nah, nah. We good. We good. You missed that boat."
Aaron: Yeah. If you listen to Malcolm X's speech, his grassroots speech, he actually namedrops Gloria Richardson. Like, he's saying, like ...
Saidu: Oh! What does he say?
Aaron: Malcolm was pretty much doing everything but calling, like, MLK and his friends, like, house n—like, house n—you know the rest.
Saidu: Yeah, yeah.
Aaron: You know? He's just like, you know ...
Saidu: Like, the relationship is, like, really, like, fractured.
Aaron: Yeah, it's fractured at this point. He says—he says—what did he say? He said, "MLK and them, they control Black folks, but they don't incite y'all or excite y'all. But my homegirl in Cambridge, she's inciting, she's exciting, and she's seeing motherfucking results."
Saidu: She got the gat! She's with the shit! She's not messing around with y'all! [laughs]
Aaron: Right. Right. He's very much saying: less MLK, more Gloria, you know? I know y'all all are enamored with MLK, but the real warrior, the real soldier, the real one y'all should be paying attention to is Gloria motherfucking Richardson.
Saidu: Motherfucking Richardson! Ay! Gloria Motherfucking Richardson! [laughs]
Saidu: When we come back, everyone tells Gloria to chill out. And she says, "Nah." More on that after the break.
Saidu: What's good, y'all? Welcome back. Aaron Randle, our producer, is inducting Gloria Motherfucking Richardson into our Resistance Fuck Your Water Fountain Hall of Fame. Let's get back into it.
Aaron: So there's this working phenomenon of her, like, being a darling of the burgeoning Black liberation movement, Black Power movement, mixed with, like, the old guard civil rights movement, just being like, "She's too radical for us." You know what I'm saying?
Saidu: Right, right, right.
Aaron: Like, it's really interesting. So eventually she gets a call from Robert F. Kennedy, who at the time is the Attorney General of the United States, right? And he wants to know, like, how can we fix the problems going on in Cambridge, right? So they meet, and it results in something called the Treaty of Cambridge. And this was signed in July of 1963.
Saidu: Excuse me. The Treaty of Cambridge?
Aaron: It sounds like some 1776 shit, doesn't it?
Saidu: [laughs] It does. It does. But at the same time, she got a whole treaty out of this? Like, they treated her like she was, like, the queen of this place, and they're trying to sign a treaty? That's wild. What is the Treaty of Cambridge?
Aaron: It literally addresses every point that she had been fighting for. The treaty calls for the construction of low rent, public housing. It calls for the commission of a biracial human relations commission in Cambridge.
Saidu: Oh, wow!
Aaron: It de-segs the county schools.
Saidu: Mm-hmm. Please tell me the hospitals are in there.
Saidu: Wow. Okay.
Aaron: Like, it was an astounding, astounding, astounding victory for, not only Gloria, but for the Cambridge movement and for the idea of, like, violence low-key on behalf of Black people.
Saidu: Yeah. Or busting back.
Aaron: Yeah. But here's the thing. Tucked into that were two caveats.
Saidu: Oh, my God, here we go. Two caveats, of course. All right. What happened?
Aaron: Of course. [laughs] I don't want to let you down. You sound so sad already.
Saidu: Nah, nah, it's fine. I mean, it's just like—yeah, like, it just sounded like things were going so great.
Aaron: Of course there's conditions, right? Of course there's conditions. So the first one isn't totally, like, crazy, right? The first one says, if we agree to do these things, then you guys have to stop demonstrating. But the second one is where shit gets weird. It said that the part of the treaty that dealt with integrating the public spaces in Cambridge, you know, the part that would have given Black people more access to shops and parks and banks and some of the hospitals in town, that part could be brought to a referendum, which is essentially like a public vote. So it was literally saying that that part of the treaty, the people of Cambridge could vote later on on whether it actually stuck or not.
Saidu: So it's like a—it's an out. It's a trap door. It's a back door out of the things that she was able to secure.
Aaron: Yeah. The civil rights movement, when they get word of this treaty and this referendum option, they're like, "Uh, it's weird, but still a victory. Yay! Yay us." Right? They're like, "I know it's not ideal, but we should take it." But Gloria's like, "No." She's like, "I am not going to vote for rights that I should hold innately as an American citizen, rights that you were already about to give me. I am not going to vote for that." And she decided that if a referendum ever happened, that she would instruct the Black folks in Cambridge to boycott.
Saidu: Oh! Like, not vote at all?
Aaron: Right. And for many Black folks like Martin Luther King, NAACP, they were like, "Goddamn woman! Like, you know, just, like, take a W," you know? Like, in their mind, it was like, this is a step forward. And she's like, "No, we're not going to beg for a seat at the table that we should already be sitting at." Right?
Aaron: And that's the thing about Gloria, right? Like, she's not about small symbolic wins or compromises. For her it's about the principal, right? So the Black folks in Cambridge, they do end up boycotting the referendum. And they do end up losing. But they did not compromise. And that was Gloria.
Saidu: Okay, so why do you love Gloria Richardson so much?
Aaron: This woman is—she's a walking bomb. Like, she dismantles everything that we are told is supposed to be what works. Like, she dismantles what we take as canon for how to fight oppression at every turn. She's just like living proof that there is no one way to liberation, right? Like, I think there's a reason why we aren't taught about Gloria Richardson, I would say, in our history books. It's always more MLK, less Malcolm, you know? More the nonviolent civil rights movement, less the Black Panther Party. And there's something powerful about a Black woman being willing to fight back. And not just fight back, like, theoretically, or fight back with philosophy but, like, literally fight back, and to do whatever it takes. You know what I'm saying? For the good of her people.
Saidu: Right, right. And also, like, I feel like also like the thing that stands out to me too is that, like, she used her privilege. Like, she used her money to do the work of liberating people, right? Or of, like, fighting for what's right. That's not something you see, like, very much at all. Like, she used her money and her hands. Like she was—like, that's like those two—you don't get those two things. Like, you get one or the other.
Aaron: It flies in the face of, like, what, you know, we're taught it's acceptable as resistance, right? I don't know. I just—the more that I read about her, it's just like the more that I just am like, how does everyone not know about her? There should be Gloria Richardson, like, t-shirts and lunchboxes and schools, you know?
Saidu: And she went to Howard. There's that, too.
Aaron: Yeah. That's small. That's small. That's small. The Howard connection plays a role, too.
Saidu: [laughs] That's actually what this is about, is entirely because she went to Howard.
Aaron: Just another example in a very, very, very long list of bad-ass Howard University Bisons. Shout out to my Bison. HU. You already know what that is.
Saidu: [laughs] I knew it, I knew it.
Aaron: Y'all just are so—y'all should just be so thankful to have us. Like, we just do so much for the culture.
Saidu: I'm gonna—I'm not gonna critique that right now.
Aaron: You can't critique that! How can you? How can you?
Saidu: You got it. You right.
Aaron: No, but now it's like a drum I want to beat forever and ever. Like, now it's just like whenever I'm gonna be, like, at bars, like, "Yeah. By the way, you know about Gloria Motherfucking Richardson? Like, because if you don't, you should."
Saidu: Back when Gloria was out here organizing in the streets of Cambridge, she didn't compromise, even when it seemed like it was the logical thing to do. She told Black folks to boycott the referendum—a vote they could've easily won, but what they would've gained in rights they would've lost in their dignity. And that was too big of a price to pay.
Saidu: The referendum did pass without them, and their rights were repealed. But just a few months later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. And just like that, they got what they'd been fighting for, without having to sacrifice anything. Gloria Richardson, the queen of having your cake and eating it too. And she's still alive today. She's 98 years old, living out here in New York. And she turns 99 next week. Happy Birthday, Gloria.
Saidu: In your exhibit at our Hall of Fame, I'm imagining a giant version of the photo where you're pushing aside the National Guard's bayonet with such ease. Your white linen shirt, your high-waist jeans, the mean mug you wore so well, they're all on full display. And we're so happy to welcome you to the Fuck Your Water Fountain Hall of Fame.
Saidu: Thank you so much for listening. Resistance is produced by Aaron Randle, Bethel Habte and Salifu Sesay Mack, and hosted by me: Saidu Tejan Thomas Jr.
Saidu: Our production assistant is Navani Otero. Our supervising producer is Sarah McVeigh. We're edited by Lynn Levy, Lydia Polgreen and Brendan Klinkenberg.
Saidu: Mixing, scoring and magic by Catherine Anderson. Additional scoring and theme by Bobby Lord. Our music supervisor is Liz Fulton. Original compositions by Drea the Vibe Dealer.
Saidu: Fact checking is by Rosemarie Ho. Our show art is by Darien Birks of The Stuyvesants. And credits music, which we're listening to right now, is "Southpaw" by Ivy Sole. And special thanks to Alyia Yates, W.J. Sunday and Taylor White.
Saidu: If you enjoyed this episode, tell a friend about it. And if you have someone who you think deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, hit us up. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line "FYWF."
Saidu: Resistance is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. All right. See y'all in two weeks.