JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --
Hairstyles come and go, but one thing remained persistent at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph beauty salon for 50 years: Lucy Richardson.
“One afternoon, my husband came home and I told him I am going to run to the BX and I will be right back,” she said. “He had no idea I was going to apply for a job.”
Richardson is thought to be the first African-American hair stylist at the salon. The salon manager Annette Vasquez believes Richardson’s presence changed perceptions of the time, making patrons and colleagues feel more beautiful.
“People are inspired by her,” Vasquez said. “She is a trailblazer, she makes everything else in life seem trivial, if she can overcome this … we all can. She is living history we don’t want people to go on without knowing.”
Born in Sweetwater, Texas, Richardson attended beautician school and ran her own salon.
“My husband was in the military and we got stationed here at Randolph,” Richardson said. “We have been here ever since.”
Grandparents raised Richardson after her mother died in childbirth. Her grandfather was a minister and taught her faith; at Randolph, she became active at church.
“I would meet people at the chapel and they would ask ‘what do you do’,” Richardson recalled. “I said I am a hair operator, and they said ‘do you work on base?’”
That innocent question planted a seed. Her passion was styling hair and she wanted to continue.
“BX management told me to go to the beauty shop and they would call and tell the manager that they were sending an operator over,” Richardson said. “Honestly, the salon manager didn’t know that I was black so when I came in she kind of just looked at me.”
She was scheduled to work the nighttime shift.
“When she first started working here, she wasn’t allowed to work on the floor,” Vasquez said. “She had to work behind a closed door. She wasn’t allowed to come out until a certain time of day.
“It was very challenging and hurtful and she shed many tears but again she continued to persevere through the strength of family that supported her and encouraged her.”
One evening after work, Richardson returned home and told her husband that she had to quit. She told him she could not take it anymore.
“He said no, you have to make the way for the others,” Richardson said. “Sure enough as life and years went on we got more and more blacks in to the shop, getting their hair done and working.”
When a client started to question why she was only allowed to style hair in the evening, Richardson recalls, those questions reached upper management. Some of her coworkers also stood up for her, insisting Richardson also have a spot in the front at the salon.
“We’ve been through thick and thin together,” said Verna Webb, who has been getting her hair cut by Richardson for 45 years. “We know each other’s lives inside and out.”
A quiet, confidence radiates from Richardson’s kind-hearted demeanor. Many of her customers know her story, feel her strength, and keep coming to see her, Vasquez says.
“Her story is history,” said Yolanda Shaw, a hairstylist colleague. “Even through the midst of it, in the hard times, the persecution, she kept going. She kept her head up and now she even shares it with the ladies. She encourages and builds us up.”