Civil War On Race Street

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Peter B. Levy. Civil War On Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement In Cambridge Maryland. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. 2003. 242p. $24.95. Paperback: ISBN 0813028159.


Civil War On Race Street provides a micro-historical perspective of the civil rights movement based upon the events which unfolded on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, specifically in the town of Cambridge, Maryland. Peter B. Levy listed four reasons for studying the events in Cambridge Maryland. The first reason was to show how ordinary citizens were affected by the civil rights movement. Second, the civil rights movement in Cambridge, Maryland was led by a woman, Gloria Richardson, who provided strong leadership. Third, Cambridge unlike the primary sites of the civil rights movement was not a part of the Deep South. And fourth, the citizens of Cambridge in spite of their history of progressive race relations and their acceptance of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown versus the Board of Education, Topeka, by 1963 race relations had deteriorated to the point that the community earned a new reputation as a “cauldron of hate” (7).

Levy provides a bottom-up history of the civil rights movement which focuses on the community’s reaction to the events which occurred during the 1960s. According to Levy, “Looked at from the bottom up, the civil rights movement was a mass movement that empowered hundreds of thousands of ordinary people”(183). In contrast to popular beliefs regarding the civil rights movement, the black population of Cambridge, Maryland was more concerned with the problems of unemployment and housing than they were with desegregation (87).

Unlike national civil rights groups such as Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that was under male leadership, the Cambridge Non-Violent Action Committee (CNAC) flourished between 1963 and 1964 under the capable leadership of Gloria Richardson. Richardson, who was college educated (Howard University), selected working-class blacks for key leadership positions within the organization to “broaden the base of the movement” (52). Richardson moved to New York in 1964 with her second husband, paving the way for more militant leaders like H. Rap Brown to influence the events of 1967 which included race riots and a devastating fire which consumed two blocks in Cambridge’s Second Ward.


Bonnie Clark, Fall 2008

Peter B. Levy departs from the more popular view of the civil rights movement as presented in histories which focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and events which occurred in Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma by choosing to focus his study on the events in a single community. Levy presents a well written, informative, bottom up, local history of the civil rights movement based upon the events which occurred in the town of Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore during the 1960s.

Like the women who participated in the civil rights movement on a more national level as presented in Personal Politics, Gloria Richardson, the strong, effective leader of the civil rights movement in Cambridge, Maryland was college educated. Richardson was a graduate of Howard University with a degree in social work. However, unlike the women within the national organizations Richardson actively participated in the activities of the Cambridge Non-violent Action Committee (CNAC) providing leadership by example rather than serving as a symbol of the movement.

This was an interesting book which provided a different perspective of the civil rights movement – the ordinary citizen rather than the national leaders. This enables the reader to visualize how the civil rights movement affected the everyday lives of ordinary people. --Blclark 12:27, 7 October 2008 (UTC)

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