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Judy Richardson

Film producer and former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activist Judy Richardson was born to autoworker William King Richardson and state office worker Mae Louise Tucker Richardson in Tarrytown, New York. Richardson grew up in the “under the hill” section of Tarrytown; the town was in the legendary “Sleepy Hollow country” made famous by author Washington Irving. Richardson’s father helped organize the United Auto Workers (UAW) local at the Chevrolet plant in Tarrytown and died “on the line” when she was seven years old. Richardson graduated from Sleepy Hollow High School in 1962 and was accepted to Swarthmore College on a full, four-year scholarship. Later, Richardson would also attend Columbia University, Howard University, and Antioch College.

During her freshman year at Swarthmore, Richardson joined the Swarthmore Political Action Committee (SPAC), a Students for a Democratic Society affiliate. In 1963, Richardson traveled by bus on weekends, with other SPAC volunteers, to assist the Cambridge, Maryland, community in desegregating public accommodations. The Cambridge Movement was led by civil rights activist Gloria Richardson, with assistance from SNCC field secretaries such as Baltimore native Reggie Robinson. Richardson eventually joined the SNCC staff at the national office in Atlanta, where she worked closely with, among others, James Forman, Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson, and Julian Bond. When the national office moved to Mississippi, during 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer, Richardson relocated as well. Richardson also worked in SNCC’s projects in Lowndes County, Alabama (with Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture and others) and in Southwest Georgia. In 1965, Richardson became office manager for Julian Bond’s successful first campaign for the Georgia House of Representatives; she also organized a northern Freedom School to bring together young activists from SNCC’s Southern projects and Northern support offices.

In 1968, Richardson and other former SNCC staffers founded Drum and Spear Bookstore in Washington, D.C., which became the largest black bookstore in the country. Richardson was also the children’s editor of Drum and Spear Press. In 1970, Richardson wrote an essay on racism in black children’s books, published by Howard University’s Journal of Negro Education. In 1978, Richardson began working with Henry Hampton and Blackside Productions on an early version of what would become the Eyes On The Prize series; major production for this Academy Award-nominated, six-hour PBS series began in 1986, during which time she acted as researcher and content advisor. For Eyes On The Prize II, the subsequent eight-hour series, Richardson was the series associate producer. Beginning in 1982, Richardson was director of information for the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, participating in its protests against police brutality in New York City, and its bus caravans to the Alabama Black Belt to counter the Reagan Administration’s intimidation of elderly African American voters. Richardson later co-produced Blackside’s 1994 Emmy and Peabody Award-winning documentary, Malcolm X: Make It Plain (for PBS’s The American Experience).

Serving as a senior producer for Northern Light Productions in Boston, Richardson produced historical documentaries for broadcast and museums, with a focus on African American historical events, including: a one-hour documentary on the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre (South Carolina) for PBS; two History Channel documentaries on slavery and slave resistance; and installations for, among others, the National Park Service’s Little Rock Nine Visitor’s Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati), the New York State Historical Society’s “Slavery in New York” exhibit, and the Paul Laurence Dunbar House (Dayton). Richardson and five other SNCC women, edited Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts By Women in SNCC. The anthology, published by University of Illinois Press, includes the courageous stories of over fifty SNCC women. It was the Press’ best-selling title in 2011 and was issued in paperback in August 2012. Richardson received an Image Award for Vision and Excellence from Women in Film and Video. She lectures, writes, and conducts professional development workshops for teachers about the history and values of the Civil Rights Movement and their relevance to current issues. Richardson was awarded an honorary doctorate by Swarthmore College and became a visiting professor at Brown University in the fall of 2012.

Accession Number

A2007.129

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/9/2007

Last Name

Richardson

Schools

Sleepy Hollow High School

F.R. Pearson Elementary School

Swarthmore College

Washington Irving Intermediate School

First Name

Judy

Birth City, State, Country

Tarrytown

HM ID

RIC13

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

Okie Dokie.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

3/10/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Cheese Grits, Sauteed Fish, Blueberry Pie

Short Description

Civil rights activist and film producer Judy Richardson (1944 - ) was a co-founder of Drum and Spear Bookstore in Washington, D.C., and worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on a variety of civil rights issues. Richardson also worked with Blackside Productions and Northern Light Productions on a variety of films and shows, most famously the Eyes on the Prize series, in addition to having a prolific career as a writer and public speaker.

Employment

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Drum and Spear Bookstore

Blackside, Inc.

Northern Light Productions

Brown University

Favorite Color

Maroon, Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Judy Richardson narrates her photographs

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Slating of Judy Richardson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Judy Richardson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Judy Richardson describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Judy Richardson recalls her mother's community in the Bronx, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Judy Richardson recalls her parents' education and marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Judy Richardson describes her father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Judy Richardson recalls her father's community in Tarrytown, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Judy Richardson describes her father's role in founding a United Auto Workers chapter, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Judy Richardson describes her father's role in founding a United Auto Workers chapter, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Judy Richardson describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Judy Richardson remembers her neighborhood in Tarrytown, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Judy Richardson describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Judy Richardson remembers her community in Tarrytown, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Judy Richardson remembers Frank R. Pierson School in Tarrytown, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Judy Richardson recalls her favorite TV programs

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Judy Richardson remembers Sleepy Hollow High School in Sleepy Hollow, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Judy Richardson describes her interest in music as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Judy Richardson recalls her favorite books and classes

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Judy Richardson talks about the racial prejudice in Tarrytown, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Judy Richardson recalls her initial opposition to school integration

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Judy Richardson remembers her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Judy Richardson recalls her choice to attend Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Judy Richardson describes her experiences at Swarthmore College

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Judy Richardson remembers joining civil rights protests in college

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Judy Richardson recalls joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Judy Richardson recalls being elected to the May Day court at Swarthmore College

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Judy Richardson talks about her decision to leave college to work for SNCC

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Judy Richardson recalls being hired by the SNCC national office

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Judy Richardson describes the the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Judy Richardson recalls the origin of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Judy Richardson talks about the relationship between SCLC and SNCC

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Judy Richardson remembers Ella Baker

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Judy Richardson describes Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson and other female leaders in SNCC

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Judy Richardson recalls the political assassinations of the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Judy Richardson recalls voter registration drives in Mississippi in 1964

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Judy Richardson talks about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Judy Richardson recalls sexism in the leadership at SNCC

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Judy Richardson recalls organizing orientation for SNCC volunteers

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Judy Richardson recalls the disappearances of Mississippi civil rights workers

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Judy Richardson recalls escorting protestors from a Greenwood, Mississippi hospital

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Judy Richardson remembers meeting Harry Belafonte

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Judy Richardson recalls the 1964 Democratic National Convention

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

1$6

DATitle
Judy Richardson remembers Ella Baker
Judy Richardson recalls sexism in the leadership at SNCC
Transcript
Okay, so we were talking a little bit about the origin of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] and Ella Baker. Now was she in the office when you were around?$$She would come in, yes. She was--a lot of times if I remember correctly she was in New York [New York], so she was travelling a lot back and forth. But I have minutes of meetings that I took when she was there and castigating, for example, Julian [HistoryMaker Julian Bond], for not coming in early enough because the press needs to be able to get to us at nine o'clock. She was asking questions about the [HistoryMaker] Dick Gregory concert 'cause Dick Gregory was a comedian who was very famous at that time, and had really good politics and was supportive of the movement. And so he had offered to do benefit concerts that summer I guess, but he needed ten thousand dollars to cover costs and all that kind of stuff. So Ms. Baker was questioning, what does it mean if you're going to pay him and you're not paying other people who could do benefits for us? She was really--Ms. Baker, the way Ms. Baker would operate is that she would not interfere unless she thought something was going wrong and then the way she would interfere is really by asking questions. Well if this happens now, what's going to happen twelve, six months from now? How is it going to play out? What are we gonna--you know. She was asking questions about the high school students who were getting involved in the student movement in Atlanta [Georgia] and she wanted to make sure that their parents were being contacted and that they knew where their kids were. I have this all in the minutes, it's amazing. I hadn't even remembered that she was that involved in the staff meeting in Atlanta. She would do the same thing in executive committee meetings. We would have them--there was--and I was always there 'cause I was taking notes because I knew shorthand and could type. And so this would be Frazier's [Frazier's Cafe Society, Atlanta, Georgia], Frazier's restaurant, which was down the street from Paschal's Restaurant [Atlanta, Georgia]. In a way that Paschal's was not clear about his support for us, Frazier's always was, and so we would have our meetings in his basement. And Ms. Baker was always there, sometimes with a smoke mask on because everybody smoked.$$Did she wear a (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh yeah she would wear a real mask because she had--I'm not sure what she had at that point, but--and I don't remember when that started happening 'cause I don't remember her always having that. It's just that at some point she started needing that during the meetings because it was smoke-filled. I mean, it was--we were always in little cramped quarters, we were meeting until four or five [o'clock] in the morning, you know, and at some point I guess she said, you know, "I can't take this."$(Simultaneous) Forman [HistoryMaker James Forman] is not happy, yeah, and the thing is we--somewhere in there we did a sit-in in his office because I got tired of taking the notes and other women got tired of taking the notes, right. So he has come back from some fund raising trip and what he meets is Bobbey Yancy [Roberta Yancy], who is now number two person at the Schomburg library [Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, New York], Mary King who wrote the book 'Freedom Song' ['Freedom Song: A Personal Story of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement'], Ruby Doris Robinson [Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson] and his wife then, Mildred Forman [Mildred Thompson Page], and I, he meets. All of us are sitting on the floor, and there is a photo of that which I must get you if you don't have it already, I'll send a jpeg of it. Anyway he meets us there, and what he says in the revision of 'Black Revolutionaries' ['The Making of Black Revolutionaries,' James Forman], I couldn't believe it. I was at that point, I'm fast forwarding now--well let me just say the resolution of that was that women were no longer the only ones taking the minutes.$$Well you all were singing too, right? You sung (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh yeah, we were singing that's true.$$You had signs.$$Yeah, we had signs that's right. No more minutes until justice comes to the Atlanta [Georgia] office, it was wonderful, we shall not be moved. You see him in the back standing over, looking a little uncomfortable. So we said we're not going to be the only ones doing it, the guys have to--got to take these minutes too, and they did. But part of it was because we said we will no longer do it. Now if you don't want them taken, fine but we're not doing it. So it wasn't so much that they weren't sexist because it was the '60s [1960s] but you could always push the question in SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee]. The guys were coming out of movements where women had been leaders. Who is going to say to Diane Nash or somebody, you can only take the minutes? Ruby Doris had done thirty days in jail, no bail, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, had been put on a chain gang. These are women that--it's not just that they are strong, it is that the men had real respect for them. And so at a certain point you could call the question, as we used to say. So it was both our adamant nature that we were not doing it, but it was also they were not going to buck us on this because the rationality of it they understood, they actually understood it.$$So to call into the question the real freedom struggle is solving the core of this (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, that's right. Now I will say they didn't take as good notes, I will say that, but 'cause they didn't like to listen but aside from that we didn't have to do it as much (laughter). So we had this thing so all of that had happened too. He comes back, and he's not that happy. I'm going to do one thing, I'm going to fast forward because what Forman says about the sit-in is that--and he says it in a preface to the revised version of 'Making of a Black Revolutionary' [sic.], right. To set the scene, I'm coming from Boston [Massachusetts], it's probably '84 [1984], '85 [1985] something like that. We were in the middle of making the first series of 'Eyes on the Prize' and so I was up here at Blackside [Blackside, Inc.] making the production of that first six-hour series. Forman comes out with this revised version of 'Making of a Black Revolutionary,', he's having a book party in New York [New York] so I'm taking the train down, and I'm reading the preface of this new revised version, and he says in it that--and it says something about women's movement or the sit-in or something. And he said the women in the organization had come to him because they were concerned about sexism in SNCC. And they came to him because we thought that he would understand and so he suggested that we role play a sit-in in his office. I'm looking at this, and I still have the book, I wrote in blue highlighter, "Say what!" I couldn't believe he had said this. And said it on the record? So I get down to the book party and everybody's there and I'm happy to see everybody, and at the end I'm alone with Forman, and I'm having him autograph my book, and I said, "Forman how on earth could you have said that, you know that didn't happen." He says, well, and I mean, it's like what do you say (laughter)? And I've had this--I was on a panel with him at the Ms. Baker [Ella Baker] conference in 1990 I guess, and he says--I'm on the same panel with him he starts to do this rendition again and says, "And I know Judy [HistoryMaker Judy Richardson] disagrees with this," and I said, "Because it didn't happen, but you got the mic, now you go ahead (laughter)." Because for him that's his image of what happened, you know.