Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Richardson speaks on role in civil rights movement in tribute to King

<u do nothing, nothing changes,” was the rousing anthem of Judy Richardson’s Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation on Friday, January 13. With Richardson’s address, Carleton students, faculty and community members were able to witness a member of living history as Richardson spoke of her participation in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Richardson said her story began in Tarrytown, New York, a town “steeped in tradition, lacking African-American doctors, teachers, businesses, or any professional black people.”

While attending Swarthmore College on a full ride in 1963, Richardson became involved with the Students’ Democratic Society, or the SDS, a group of “primarily white, very progressive students” on campus.

One day, a bus came to transport students from Swarthmore to a rally in the South. Richardson jumped on—in part, she said, because “my mother wasn’t there to stop me.”

The bus, it turned out, was run by SNCC. And when the bus stopped and joined with other SNCC groups, Richardson recalled that she “found the best and the brightest.”
“They all looked like me, many of them were my age,” she said. “And they were changing the world as I knew it.”

She added, laughing, “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

Working with SNCC in the South crystallized the civil rights movement and racial injustice for Richardson, particularly due to an incident in front of a restaurant she planned to eat at with her fellow youth organizers.

“This big, burly guy standing in front of me was saying I couldn’t come in because I’m black,” recalled Richardson. “All that I had seen in Tarrytown came clear, and put a name on it: racism.”

SNCC gave her a “constructive vehicle” to fight this racism in a group that “focused on goals, not barriers.”

One of these major goals during Richardson’s involvement with SNCC was “getting black citizens to register to vote—without getting them killed.” Because of the nature of the committee’s actions, “non-violent coordinating” was more than just a name, it was a “tactic you had to use if you’re trying not to get people killed.”

Richardson recently expanded upon her previous civil rights work by producing “Eyes on the Prize,” a 14-hour PBS documentary on the civil rights movement. She offered insight into the oft-cited case of Mrs. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycotts. Far from the caricature of a frail and elderly woman, Richardson countered that “this was an act of resistance.”
Civil rights organizers, she explained, had long sought a rallying point to aid in mobilizing the African-American community against the racial injustice. Mrs. Parks provided just that, and triggered an immense chain of action, said Robinson, who detailed the many telephone trees activated, leaflets distributed and sermons about the issue.

After hearing the Sunday sermons, on Monday, “nobody was on the bus,” said Richardson—or for 380 days after that Monday.

Why did boycott-participants go for 381 days without public transportation? Richardson offered explanations: “For my children and my children’s children;” “Responsibility to those who come behind you.” Or, in the words of one elderly woman: “My feets is tired but my soul is rested.”

Richardson challenged all whom she addressed to tire their feet on the path to activism. “I won’t be here in the future,” she said, “You guys got it from here.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *