Cambridge riot of 1963

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The Cambridge Riots of 1963, were race riots that occurred during the summer of 1963 in Cambridge, Maryland, a small town on the Eastern Shore.[1] The riots emerged during the Civil Rights Movement, led by Gloria Richardson and the local chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and its opposition by pro-segregationist civilians and police.

Preceding Events of 1962[edit]

By January, Baltimore's Civic Interest Group (CIG) - an affiliate of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) - begins organizing sit-ins and freedom rides in towns along Maryland's Eastern Shore. When SNCC organizers arrive in Cambridge, demonstrations are organized downtown to demand desegregation of local businesses. The Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) is founded soon after these initial demonstrations to support and continue local protests.

Governor J. Millard Tawes urges the Maryland General Assembly to pass an anti-discrimination bill aimed at ending prejudice in establishments throughout the state, though the effort is hampered when Eastern Shore legislators push to allow counties to exempt themselves from enforcement of the bill.

By the close of the summer of 1962, most establishments in Cambridge are still segregated, with CNAC-led protests dwindling as school resumes for its student members.[2]

Events of 1963[edit]

Demonstrations by the CNAC resume at the end of March, when a local movie theater expands its discriminatory practices by relegating African-Americans to the back rows of the balcony instead of the entire balcony, as had been done previously. This escalation motivates leaders of both the CNAC and CIG to meet with city officials to discuss the desegregation of public accommodations, equal employment opportunities, and fair housing for African-Americans but their demands go unmet. In response, demonstrators march though downtown Cambridge to protest the continuing segregation allowed in public venues, which ends with the arrest of Richardson and sixteen other demonstrators for "disorderly conduct." A boycott of white-owned businesses is then organized by the CNAC, with this pattern of protests, arrests, boycotts, and harassment continuing through April.[3]

CNAC demonstrations continue in mid-May, with many of them led by high school students Dwight Cromwell and Dinez White, both 15, who are later charged with "disorderly conduct" after being arrested while praying peacefully outside of a segregated facility. Cromwell and White are held without bail and eventually sentenced to indefinite incarceration in a state juvenile facility. Marches are organized by the CNAC on the nights of June 11 and June 12 to protest the sentences given to Cromwell and White. On June 13, a third march is organized downtown. On June 14, several white-owned businesses in the Second Ward - a predominately African-American section of town - are set on fire and gunfire is exchanged between white and African-American citizens, resulting in casualties.[3]

Governor Tawes declares martial law and deploys the Maryland National Guard to Cambridge after the CNAC refuses a year-long moratorium on protests. The guardsmen remain in the town for a 25-day period, from June 14 through July 8.[3]

On July 11 a clash between white and African-American civilians breaks out when six sit-in demonstrators at Dizzyland restaurant, one of the main targets of the CNACs summer-long integration campaign, are harassed and beaten by white patrons.[4] Tensions further increase when 250 African-Americans organize a "freedom walk" to the Dorchester County Court House that evening and are met by a crowd of 700 whites. The two groups are kept apart and eventually dispersed by the Maryland State Police. Cambridge remains quiet until 10 p.m., when two white men and a 12-year-old boy are wounded by shotgun fire near their homes and police bring eight African-American men into the police station for questioning.[5]

In the early morning hours of July 12, two carloads of white men drive through the Second Ward, exchanging gunfire with African-Americans. Police arrest five white men in their early 20s after the first exchange of gunfire in the African-American district.[5] Three National Guardsmen in a civilian car are injured when a gunshot blast punctures their windshield during the second round of gunfire between whites and African-Americans.[4] Law and order is reinstated around 2 a.m. on July 12 and Major George E. Davidson of the Maryland State Police recommends to Governor Tawes that full martial law be reinstated.

The Maryland National Guard is redeployed to Cambridge, where they will remain for the next year. Brigadier General George Gelston, assistant state adjutant general and commander of the troops, imposes a modified martial law that consists of a 9 p.m. curfew, a ban on further racial demonstrations, and prohibits the carrying of firearms and the sale of liquor.[4]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Osorio, Yari (2013-02-09). "Cambridge, Md. 50 years ago: when the civil rights movement hit back". Liberation News. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  2. ^ "Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement -- History & Timeline, 1962". www.crmvet.org. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  3. ^ a b c "Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement -- History & Timeline, 1963 (Jan-June)". www.crmvet.org. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  4. ^ a b c Smith, Hedrick (July 13, 1963). "Martial Law is Imposed in Cambridge, Md., Riots". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 10, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b "6 Shot in Maryland Riot". The Chicago Tribune. July 12, 1963. Retrieved March 10, 2017.