Reggie Robinson and SNCC arrive in Cambridge, Maryland
Although Cambridge, Maryland on the Eastern Shore of the state was not geographically in the South, it was as rigidly segregated as any southern city. In the summer of 1961, sit-ins and freedom rides began along Route 40, which pulled Cambridge’s Gloria Richardson into the Movement. The Civic Interest Group (CIG) of Baltimore and CORE were the major proponents of these protests, which soon began expanding to cities and towns along Maryland’s Eastern Shore. After ten CIG members were arrested for trespassing and spent Christmas in jail in the town of Crisfield, the cousin of Gloria Richardson, bail bondsman Frederick St. Clair, suggested that CIG place activists directly in Cambridge to investigate the city’s race relations problems. One of these activists was Reggie Robinson.
Robinson was one of SNCC’s earliest field secretaries. He was the first to join Bob Moses in McComb, Mississippi. As a student at the Cortez Peters Business School, Robinson had been the treasurer of CIG, and the dean of the school, Walter Dickson, had appointed him CIG’s representative to SNCC. For Dickson, who was also the first Black man to sit on Baltimore’s city council, Reggie Robinson would be his connection to the local students and his eyes and ears on the ground while Dickson tried to push forward a public accommodations bill. Dixon “was a different kind of guy,” recalled Robinson, noting that he was “teaching me what things needed to be done.”
So Robinson was a natural choice to go to Cambridge when the CIG decided to investigate the possibility of supporting protest in Cambridge and on the Eastern Shore. Robinson and Freedom Ride veteran, William Hansen, arrived on January 6, 1962 to begin investigating what was possible. They stayed at the home of Gloria Richardson’s grandfather, Herbert St. Clair. Richardson and her daughter, Donna, had already begun planning for protests in the city.
The two SNCC field secretaries met with a number of people during their investigation, including town officials, teachers, and the Equal Opportunity Commission, all of whom tried to convince them that Cambridge didn’t have a race problem. The pair concluded that was false and talked to numerous Black leaders who described unjust treatment of African Americans in schools, restaurants, by the police, and more.
Due to Hansen and Robinson’s reports, CIG continued with their demonstration, the first of which was held on January 13th. One hundred activists–some members of CIG, some from other Maryland colleges–marched downtown challenging segregation in public facilities. The first protest was met with violence. A mob attacked Hansen and threw him out of the Choptank Inn before police arrested him for disorderly conduct. Hansen wrote later, “As I walked through the doorway the crowd really exploded. I got about four or five steps inside when I was hit in the back of the head, and knocked to the floor.” Immediately after, Hansen was kicked repeatedly until he was arrested by two state troopers.
Local Blacks gathered at Waugh Chapel United Methodist Church, and it was decided that the protests would continue. They formed the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) the following day, A number of white students from nearby colleges like Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr joined in the continuing protests. Violence again erupted at the Choptank Inn, and Hansen was kicked unconscious twice before being arrested for trespassing.
As a result of Robinson and Hansen’s organizing, local chapters of the NAACP, as well as CNAC, grew.
Charles E. Cobb, Jr., On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2008), 56-57.
Peter B. Levy, Civil War on Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge, Maryland (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2003).
Reginald Robinson and William Hansen Jr., “Field Report: Cambridge, Maryland,” January 20, 1962, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website, Tougaloo College.
Interview with Reggie Robinson by Charlie Cobb, November 5, 2014, Brown University.