The Cambridge Riots of 1963 and 1967


H. Rap Brown and the Cambridge RiotsIn the early 1960s, the pattern of peaceful sit-ins to protest unequal public accommodations and racial discrimination began to shift toward angrier and more violent protests. Cambridge resident Gloria Richardson, a recent Howard graduate, quickly became a local leader advocating more militant boycotts and sit-ins. While peaceful protests were generally tolerated as long as they did not impede access to buildings and accommodations, the transformation towards more aggressive protesting resulted in police action and arrests. In June 1963, Cambridge Mayor Calvin Mawbray asked Richardson to stop the demonstrations in exchange for end to the arrests of protestors, but Richardson angrily refused. On June 11, 1963, the town erupted into violent rioting after black youths began throw rocks at white-owned businesses. After shooting broke out between the opposing elements, Governor Tawes declared martial law and troops arrived in Cambridge to restore order. 

When talks between Richardson and state officials broke down, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy negotiated a deal that would provide immediate equal access for blacks in public accommodations in Cambridge in return to a one-year moratorium on demonstrations. Although Kennedy thought Richardson had accepted the deal, Richardson publicly announced the civil rights gains achieved while denying that she had made any promises to end the demonstrations.  In response, Governor Tawes dispatched additional troops to Cambridge. An open accommodation amendment to the city charter failed to pass, but the passage of state and federal laws brought the issue to a close.

Throughout the country, militant rioting and demonstrations continued. On July 24, 1967, the National State Rights Party held a rally in Cambridge during which H. Rap Brown delivered a now famous speech advocating increased violence and unrest:

Ain't no need in the world for me to come to Cambridge and I see all them stores sitting up there and all them honkies owns them. You got to own some of them stores. I don't care if you have to burn him down and run him out. You'd better take over them stores. The streets are your. Take 'em. They gave you the streets a long time ago; before they gave you houses. Then gave you the streets. So, we own the streets. Take 'em.... 

Immediately after Brown left town, fires broke out in the black wards of Cambridge. White firemen refused to enter the area without police protection. Black leaders appealed for help, but in the end, two blocks of the black district burned to the ground. The militant movement in Cambridge was crushed and Richardson left town. In September, H. Rap Brown was indicted for arson and inciting a riot. Brown jumped bail and continued the movement underground, but was captured in 1971 after a shoot-out with police in New York.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)

STANDARD 4: The struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties. 

Standard 4A: The student understands the “Second Reconstruction” and its advancement of civil rights. 

9-12: Assess the reasons for and effectiveness of the escalation from civil disobedience to more radical protest in the civil rights movement. [Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances] 

Primary Resources

  1. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Maryland State Archives Map Collection) Map of Cambridge, ca. 1960. Highways of Dorchester County, Maryland Department of Transportation. MSA SC 1427-215, MSA SC 2221-12-16.

  2. A collation of transcripts of a speech given by H. Rap Brown on 24 July 1967 in Cambridge Maryland, by Lawrence Peskin and Dawn Almes, and a recording of part of the speech provided by Wayne E. Page, MSA SC 2221-12-8.

  3. DORCHESTER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Criminal Papers) #2116 Maryland vs. H. Rap Brown, September 1967, MSA T 2091. The Annotated Code of the Public General Laws of Maryland Horace E. Flack, ed., Vol 1, Sec. 7, Art. 27 (Baltimore: King Bros. Inc., 1952). ATTORNEY GENERAL (Criminal Investigation Papers) #1028, 1968, transcript of reports concerning H. Rap Brown's speech, MSA T 2094, MSA SC 2221-12-12.

  4. Early newspaper accounts relating to the arrest of H. Rap Brown, MSA SC 2520, MSA SC 2221-12-35.

  5. Excerpts from Die Nigger Die! by H. Rap Brown (New York: Dial Press, 1969), MSA SC 2221-12-13.

  6. Excerpts from the Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew (Annapolis: State of Maryland, 1975), MSA SC 2221-12-6.

  7. GOVERNOR (General File) Letters to and from Delegate Aris Allen in 1968 concerning Governor Agnew's remarks to the African American leadership in Baltimore, 11 April 1968. MSA S 1041-1713, MSA SC 2221-12-15.

Secondary Resources

Brugger, Robert. "Land of Pleasant Living" In Maryland: A Middle Temperament. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press in association with the Maryland Historical Society, 1988.

Callcott, George. "The Black Revolution" In Maryland & America 1940-1980. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press , 1985.

Foeman, Anita K. "Gloria Richardson: Breaking the Mold" Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 26, No. 5, Special Issue: The Voices of African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement. (May, 1996), pp. 604-615.

Levy, Peter B. Civil War on Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge, Maryland. University Press of Florida, 2003.

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