AACHM Oral History: Lois Allen-Richardson
Wed, 09/22/2021 - 11:00am
When: August 24, 2021
Lois Allen-Richardson was born in 1942 in Ypsilanti, where she remembers attending Harriet Street School and spending time at Parkridge Center. As a young adult, she worked briefly at Goodman’s Fashion Center in the heart of Ypsilanti’s Black business district. Allen-Richardson is an ordained minister and served as a missionary in Haiti and Trinidad. Since 2000 she has been a member of the Ypsilanti City Council, where she has been a strong advocate for the city’s south side. In June 2020, she became Ypsilanti’s first Black woman mayor after the resignation of her predecessor
- [00:00:15] JOYCE HUNTER: First of all, [NOISE] let me thank you for agreeing to do the interview. I really appreciate it. We appreciate it. We're going to start with part one, which is demographics and family history. I'm first going to ask you some simple demographic questions. These questions may log your memories, but please keep your answers brief and to the point. We can go into more detail later in the interview. Please state and spell your name.
- [00:00:47] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Lois, L-O-I-S. Allen Richardson. A-L-L-E-N hyphen R-I-C-H-A-R-D-S-O-N.
- [00:01:02] JOYCE HUNTER: What is your date of birth including the year?
- [00:01:09] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: 10-2-1942 or October 2nd, 1942.
- [00:01:13] JOYCE HUNTER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:18] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Black. [NOISE]
- [00:01:20] JOYCE HUNTER: What is your religion, if any?
- [00:01:23] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Nondenominational Christian.
- [00:01:28] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:32] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Bachelor's degree.
- [00:01:36] JOYCE HUNTER: Did you attend any additional school or career training beyond that?
- [00:01:42] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes. I graduated from Freedom Christian Center Bible College.
- [00:01:48] JOYCE HUNTER: Great. Did that prepare you for anything specific in the church?
- [00:01:54] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: For ministry.
- [00:01:55] JOYCE HUNTER: Ministry?
- [00:01:56] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes.
- [00:01:57] JOYCE HUNTER: Are you considered? Are you a Minister?
- [00:02:00] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I am a licensed ordained minister, yes.
- [00:02:03] JOYCE HUNTER: Very nice. What is your marital status?
- [00:02:07] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I'm divorced.
- [00:02:10] JOYCE HUNTER: How many children do you have?
- [00:02:12] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I didn't have any children.
- [00:02:15] JOYCE HUNTER: Like me.
- [00:02:16] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Okay. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:02:18] JOYCE HUNTER: How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:21] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I have three siblings living. I have two that have passed away.
- [00:02:28] JOYCE HUNTER: Are they in this area? Is she or he in this area?
- [00:02:32] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I have two. I have a brother and sister living in this area, and I have a brother that lives in Kansas City, Missouri.
- [00:02:43] JOYCE HUNTER: What was your primary occupation or is your primary occupation?
- [00:02:48] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: My primary occupation was social worker. Then went from social worker to missionary, from missionary to teaching adult ed.
- [00:03:03] JOYCE HUNTER: Did you travel to do your missionary work?
- [00:03:06] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes, I did. I traveled. My first assignment was in Haiti and my next assignment, actually I lived in Trinidad for close to seven years, but I traveled out to 15 different countries.
- [00:03:23] JOYCE HUNTER: That's awesome.
- [00:03:24] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes, it was.
- [00:03:25] JOYCE HUNTER: Talk to me a little bit about living in Trinidad.
- [00:03:28] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh, I loved it. I would be there now if the Lord would let me. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:03:35] JOYCE HUNTER: [OVERLAPPING] What did you love about it?
- [00:03:36] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: It is not because of the weather either. That's not the reason. I just like the country and the people.
- [00:03:46] JOYCE HUNTER: Great. I've never been to Trinidad. That's something maybe to think about.
- [00:03:49] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh, go.
- [00:03:52] JOYCE HUNTER: Yeah. At what age did you retire? Are you considered as being retired now?
- [00:03:57] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: You know, I never really worked on a job long enough to retire.
- [00:04:08] JOYCE HUNTER: [LAUGHTER] Okay.
- [00:04:08] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: In some ways, I guess I'm not really retired because being a mayor is work.
- [00:04:15] JOYCE HUNTER: [LAUGHTER] True. That was going to be my next question. Talk to me about being mayor and when that all came about.
- [00:04:24] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I became mayor on June 23rd, 2020. I had been on City Council since November of 2000. I was just a council member and then I was mayor pro tem. Then I was city councilperson, and then I became mayor pro tem in 2018. In 2020, the former mayor made some not-so-nice remarks and actually was pretty much forced to resign after doing so. As mayor pro tem, I stepped in as mayor.
- [00:05:10] JOYCE HUNTER: Congratulations.
- [00:05:11] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Well, thank you.
- [00:05:14] JOYCE HUNTER: I'm sure I heard a little bit on the news about the former mayor. Can you share anything about what caused that person to step down?
- [00:05:23] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Well, I'll go back to the night of the incident. This was in March or so of 2020. I challenged the City Council to dig inside because I believe that we all have biases and that we all need to pull our biases out and work on them. I challenged City Council with that, to challenge them to take on the hashtag personally, "Change begins with me." That we all need to really examine the biases that we have inside, pull them out, look at them, and one by one begin to work on getting rid of them. That was one meeting. Then in June, I guess it was actually in May, May or June, I again challenged City Council. I challenged them with if we see anything that's racist or if we hear anything that's racist, we need to call it out. We need to speak to the person and call it out. I said many times people don't know that what they're saying or doing is racist, but if we want to get rid of racism, we [CLAPS] got to begin to call it out when we see it. Call it exactly what it is. So a council meeting in June, it was the second council meeting, not sure exactly of the date, but we were voting on a commission appointment. This particular commission appointment was a young Black man. He had been on commission, but he had not been attending. We Council, sometime before that, had decided that we were going to look at attendance and look at the participation of commission members and if they were not really functioning to not reappoint. As we were voting on this young man, this young man and the mayor had formed quite a relationship. Council was voting no, that he could not be reappointed. Out of 26 meetings, I think he had attended three. Council voted no. When it became the mayor's term to vote, the mayor commented that, she says, "I guess I'll be crucified if I vote against a Black person." Everybody on Council went, "Whoa, mayor, why would--?" You know. She was called out on it. This wasn't the first racist comment that she had made. She had made many that were just kind of looked over and she wasn't called out on, but this one she was. So it pursued that not only was Council quite upset and vocal on it that the community also became vocal and we asked her to resign, and she eventually did. She resigned a week later.
- [00:08:50] JOYCE HUNTER: Thank you for sharing that. How has your tenure gone so far as mayor?
- [00:08:58] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Well, we're still in the midst of it.
- [00:09:02] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. [LAUGHTER] All right, very good. We're going to move on to part two, memories of childhood and youth. What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:09:13] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh, wow. My father died when I was nine. He died in August and I turned 10 in October. That left my mother. I had an older brother and an older sister. My sister was 11 years older than myself, and my brother was nine years older, so I had two older siblings. For nine years there was no one, no children, and then I came along and after me, there were three others, so I was a middle child in that, the two older and then the three younger and I was there in the middle, really in the middle by myself. I had a good childhood and some of those--my friends and cousins and stuff that grew up around the same time that I did--[NOISE] we sometimes now look back and kind of laugh and say, "We all were poor, but we didn't know we were poor until somebody told us." But I can say I had a good childhood other than missing my dad, but I had a good growing up. Back then there were people in the neighborhood and teachers that took special care of all of us as students and expressed their special interests in us and so I had that. Some of my teachers were really exceptional and exceptionally nice and good teachers.
- [00:11:02] JOYCE HUNTER: Very good. What sort of work did your parents do?
- [00:11:07] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: My father was a laborer and my mother was either a housewife or she did day labor and later in life she became part owner of a barbecue business that did not last a long time, but she was the main cook for the business.
- [00:11:32] JOYCE HUNTER: When you say your mother was a day labor.
- [00:11:35] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: No, a day worker.
- [00:11:38] JOYCE HUNTER: A day worker?
- [00:11:39] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes, a day worker. In that she went into homes and did day work, cleaning work, [OVERLAPPING] cleaned houses.
- [00:11:47] JOYCE HUNTER: Tell me a little bit more about her business. You said she had a barbecue?
- [00:11:51] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Well, she went in business with some friends. She only had a small portion of ownership of the business, but she was the main person that did the barbecuing for that business. It did not last long. They opened in Ann Arbor and the business did not last long. She was much older in life. I think by that time she was already past 60.
- [00:12:26] JOYCE HUNTER: Where did they have the business at in Ann Arbor? Where was it located?
- [00:12:30] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: You know what? I can't remember.
- [00:12:33] JOYCE HUNTER: Since she went into that type of business, was she an excellent cook?
- [00:12:39] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh my gosh, yes. Remember I said we didn't know we were poor until somebody told us we were poor. My mother could go in the kitchen with nothing and come out with a table full of food and everybody asking for more. My mother had a heart of love and an open table, and anyone that needed a meal or any of our friends that were at our house playing, or any her friends, whoever was there at mealtime, got to eat. If they came in between, if they were hungry, they were fed.
- [00:13:18] JOYCE HUNTER: That's wonderful. What are some of your earliest memories as a child?
- [00:13:27] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh, wow. I was born and raised at 634 Harriet Street, which happens to be right across from what is now Perry School. Back then when I was growing up, it was attended, it was Harriet Street School. I just had to walk across the street to school. I remember my house being a gathering place, it seemed like all the kids in the neighborhood and even after I was grown, my younger brothers and sisters, all their friends flocked there, so we always had lots of people around, lots of family around. Back then Ypsilanti was a place where everyone, particularly Black people, everyone knew everyone. Not only did everyone know everyone, but in many cases, everyone might be related because not necessarily by blood, but by marriage or by just claiming one another. "Oh, that's my cousin." "Oh, you know? Girl, don't mess with her, that's my cousin." That kind of thing. But everyone pretty much back when I was growing up in Ypsilanti, everyone knew. What I did, I started working. I started at nine years of age. I started babysitting, I had a cousin that would ask me to sit with her children for an hour or two and I would. After that, I guess I must have been in seventh grade, I began to work at the Goodman's Fashion Center, which was there on Harriet Street. Oh my gosh, there's a history of Harriet Street that really needs to be told by people that lived it. Goodman's Fashion Center was a store owned by Mr. and Mrs. George Goodman and Mrs. Thelma Goodman ran the business. There was a dress shop upstairs that sold lots of hats and that's where my love for hats came in and downstairs there was a beauty parlor. So from Tuesday through Friday, I worked two hours after school and I answered the phone for the beauty shop. If someone came into the dress shop I would wait on them. I think I did that for maybe a year and then I began to work Tuesday through Friday, two hours after school and then on Saturdays I worked from 10:00-4:00 in the shop upstairs. From there I got a part-time job one summer over at U of M as a nutrition aid in the kitchen. While I was at Eastern going to school, I worked at a grocery store in the neighborhood called Allen's Super Market and at that time, Allen's Super Market had a store here in Ypsilanti and also a small shopping strip right in Inkster on Inkster Road. I recall and remember that, I believe it was either Ebony or Jet that did a write-up on them because at that time they were the only Black chain supermarket in the country.
- [00:17:30] JOYCE HUNTER: This is fascinating. I want to ask you a couple of questions and then come back up to where you just stopped talking. You were nine when you started?
- [00:17:39] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes, I was nine when I first started babysitting.
- [00:17:43] JOYCE HUNTER: Wow, that's great. Talk to me a little bit more about that area. You said there was a dress shop and a beauty shop. Was that all Black-owned?
- [00:17:54] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: It was Black-owned. Oh gosh, you're going to make me cry. Harriet Street, back in that time, we had our own, you might say, Rosewood. We had our own Black Tulsa. We had the dress shop and the beauty parlor. Across the street, we had a backyard car wash. There was a gentleman there named Buster Lee and Buster Lee could wash, and clean, and shine cars like making them look like they came right off the car room floor. Across the street, we had a building—it was several things going on. One, it had a restaurant in there that was called The Blue Cafe. Then it changed hands and had another name. But right in the same building, there was a Reliable Cab Company. Then downstairs, there was a cleaners. It was the cleaners at one time, then it became a beauty parlor, and that was all in the same building. Now that building is the Hope Clinic. Right next door to it, the Hope Clinic, there was a barbershop and there was a storefront next to it connected that was a seamstress shop. There were several other things that were within and out of that storefront. Behind it was an apartment building, it was all owned by Mr. Hall, by J.D. Hall. The apartment building--there were probably I think four apartments in there. Then on the corner, there were two barbershops. Then there was another set-along building that was the Bop Shop and that was owned by Bud Davis, who his mother was Lucille Richardson that owned Lucille Richardson's Funeral Home. There was something else in the house on the corner. Across from that, and this is just one block from Goodman's Fashion Center. There were houses on that block and they were fantastic houses. They were homes that were built with--the porches had large pillars and they were really somewhat looking like southern mansions. But on the corner, there was a building that was called The Place. The Place was The Place. People rented it for wedding receptions, for parties, for cabarets. When it first opened every Saturday night, it was open for dancing for the teenagers at that time. I wasn't old enough to go in there. Across the street, which would have made it on the southeast corner of Hamilton, there was a grocery store. It was called Washington's Grocery Store. It was owned by Amos Washington. Amos Washington was responsible for bringing public housing to the area. Behind the grocery store, there was a real estate office, an insurance office. Across the street, we had a drugstore and some apartments and some other little storefronts, and it was owned by Louise Mahaley. We also had what was known as the 310 Bar. It was first known as the Northern Lights and then later became known as 310 Bar. This is within, what, a two-block area. You traveled down a block, there were homes and then you came to what is Huron Street. Right there now where it was Bud and Joe's, that was a grocery store and the name of the store was Gordon's Market. But it was known in the neighborhood as the "Jew store." Everybody knew, their names are floating around in front of me but I can't pull them out. But everyone knew them and they knew the neighborhood. It was where you could go in, and many families had the little ticket that they would go and buy and then pay on Fridays. Around the corner from that or down the street from that was where Allen's Super Market was. We had two gas stations across from there. They both sold gas, but one was primarily a mechanical shop. Around the corner from that, we had a pool room and then up the street from The Place, if you were going south, there was also a pool room. We had lots of businesses in our area until urban removal came through. That's exactly what it did. It removed people and businesses and places. I saw that not only happen here in Ypsilanti, but unfortunately, I was witness to the urban removal also in Kansas City, Missouri as I lived there.
- [00:24:13] JOYCE HUNTER: This is really, really interesting. Were most of those businesses you named, were they owned by Blacks?
- [00:24:20] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Every last one of them, except for Gordon's Market.
- [00:24:25] JOYCE HUNTER: We've done a number of interviews and people that grew up in the Ann Arbor area often refer to certain areas as the Black Business District. So that was more or less the Black business district in Ypsilanti; is that correct?
- [00:24:37] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes. Joyce, we had everything we needed. The only thing that Blacks really had to go downtown for was to pay their light bill, water bill, telephone bill to the post office. There were dress shops and things downtown and some Blacks would go downtown and shop at those shops. We had shops downtown that there was one, the clock shop where Black women could not try on dresses. They carried women's dresses and children's clothes. But Black women could not try on dresses in there. Yes, when urban removal came through, they destroyed the Black business area.
- [00:25:34] JOYCE HUNTER: I noticed you called [inaudible 00:25:36] .
- [00:25:38] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I didn't hear you.
- [00:25:39] JOYCE HUNTER: No, I said I noticed you called it Black removal, no, urban removal?
- [00:25:45] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes.
- [00:25:45] JOYCE HUNTER: Is what you referred to it as.
- [00:25:47] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes. That's what it was.
- [00:25:49] JOYCE HUNTER: Very good. I do want to go back to a few questions about your family. Which holidays did your family celebrate?
- [00:26:03] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: We celebrated all the regular holidays, the Christian holidays: Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and maybe a couple or two made-up ones in between [LAUGHTER].
- [00:26:26] JOYCE HUNTER: [LAUGHTER] That was going to be my next question. Has your family created its own traditions and celebrations?
- [00:26:35] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Not so much. Now as the older generation passes, some of those things that weren't carried on. But with the older, my mother and her sisters and brothers, they had some days that they would just come together. My mother had a brother that lived in Detroit that was a pastor and he pastored the same church for over 60 years. His name was William Jerry Bishop, we called him Uncle Bishop, but whenever he came out, it was always like a holiday.
- [00:27:21] JOYCE HUNTER: Sounds wonderful.
- [00:27:23] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: It was.
- [00:27:25] JOYCE HUNTER: In terms of school, during your high school years, did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school?
- [00:27:33] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I was never much for sports. That just wasn't my forte. But I was in the debate club. What else? Oh gosh. I was active in a lot of activities at church and also at school. I can't remember the clubs that I was in but it wasn't sports. No. But I was quite active. Yes.
- [00:28:16] JOYCE HUNTER: Right so the debate probably helped you in the careers that you have, such as being mayor now as well?
- [00:28:25] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: As I think back, I think it did, yes.
- [00:28:29] JOYCE HUNTER: Great.
- [00:28:30] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I was on Student Council and I was more on that end of activities rather than sports. I wasn't musically inclined either. They weren't going to let me sing in the choir. Although I did try out for a couple of plays when I was in school but unfortunately, oh gosh, our play department, I mean, there was racism. What can I say? Just call it as it is, it was just racist. We had some Blacks that could have really performed well, that would try out, but Blacks were not really selected for parts in the plays.
- [00:29:25] JOYCE HUNTER: That was the drama, theater department?
- [00:29:28] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes.
- [00:29:29] JOYCE HUNTER: Talk to me a little bit more about that in terms of the racism.
- [00:29:34] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh, Blacks would try out for plays and they were never selected, so after a while, it was just--don't even bother, don't waste your time. There was a lot of racism in Ypsi High when I was there. I don't know what it is like now, but I do know that it was very prevalent when I was in school. Ypsi High had a drum and bugle corps and there was never more than one Black girl. It was an all-girls group, there was never more than one Black girl in there at a time. We might have had, maybe generally cheerleaders, we had one Black cheerleader at a time. There might have been, as the years progressed, I think there might have been a couple of Black, but basically, racism was there. Let me say this, I told you where I lived and grew up. Ypsi High where we went--and I went to the same building--now there is a senior, well, it's not senior apartments anymore. It started out as senior apartments on Cross Street and was approximately a little over a mile from my house. Some of my friends lived maybe a quarter mile or so from me, further south. We would meet up and walk to school and we were walking, well, a mile or more. We walked to school. Students that lived maybe a half a mile, white students on the other side that was just a few blocks from the school, they got bused to school.
- [00:31:39] JOYCE HUNTER: That's a good example right there in terms of racism.
- [00:31:41] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes.
- [00:31:42] JOYCE HUNTER: Did you all wonder or question that? Was anything said about that?
- [00:31:50] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Back then, Joyce, that would have been in the '50s and I graduated in high school in '60, so there wasn't a whole lot being said. You knew you needed an education and you did what you had to do.
- [00:32:10] JOYCE HUNTER: That's true. Were there any changes in your family life during your school years?
- [00:32:20] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Well, like I said, my father died when I was nine, so I was probably going into the fifth grade or something. That was the major change when I was going to school. You said it in my family. Am I answering the right question?
- [00:32:45] JOYCE HUNTER: Yes, you are, because sometimes there's changes during your school year that impacted your family. You mentioned your father had died and I know there's other things as well.
- [00:32:56] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Basically, that was the major change that was in my family.
- [00:33:04] JOYCE HUNTER: I do want to ask you to go back, I'm going to ask a question. Did your family have any special sayings [NOISE] or expressions during this time?
- [00:33:14] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Wow. I have to think on that one.
- [00:33:18] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay, if you think of it, we can come back and you can answer. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:33:25] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I'm sure they did. My father was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and my mother was from Moundsville. My mother was one of 21 children, my father was one of four children. She had nine siblings that lived in the area in Michigan with us, though they were the nine surviving siblings. They all had sayings and we would all laugh and I had an aunt that was an absolute truly born storyteller. She would never let us take any of her stories, but she could tell story after story after story. As long as you could sit and listen, she could tell you a story and never tell the same story twice. [LAUGHTER] I know that there were some things but right now, I just can't pull them up.
- [00:34:28] JOYCE HUNTER: That's fine. It would have been good if she would let you or the family take some of her stories. [OVERLAPPING]
- [00:34:35] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh, I know it, I know it. I think about the younger children now, I have great great nieces and nephews and I just wish I said, "Oh, I wish they could hear some of Aunt Marie's stories about what happened way back when they were children." Especially the older she got, she thought you were turning on a tape recorder she would push her lips together and would not say another word. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:35:08] JOYCE HUNTER: Well, at least they got to hear them but not tape them, right?
- [00:35:13] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Well, we did. I'm thinking about the generations that are coming along.
- [00:35:20] JOYCE HUNTER: So I have to ask you about your mom having 21 siblings?
- [00:35:25] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes.
- [00:35:29] JOYCE HUNTER: That's a lot.
- [00:35:30] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: That's a lot. Grandma Carrie had three sets of twins and I think one set of twins was stillborn, and then I believe that there were maybe 15 that grew to be in their teens or early '20s, but they died young. There were nine siblings and they all moved from Alabama to Michigan together.
- [00:36:19] JOYCE HUNTER: All right, so I'm going to move to the next question. When thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:36:34] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Okay. The first thing that popped to mind was--I don't know how long we had had a television because televisions were new in Black homes at the time--Martin Luther King and some of the movement that was going on in the South, the protests and all that were going on. I do remember--there were a couple of things I wanted. The Peace Corps was just starting. They were starting what they called a domestic Peace Corps and there was an opportunity. I was a Delta. I am a Delta but there was an opportunity given, extended to young Deltas at the time. There was a project that was going on that was being done in Harlem. It was to be a test for the development of a domestic Peace Corps. I had the opportunity, and was selected to go but my family said, "No, I could not just take off and go to New York." I would have been staying with other Deltas that were a part of this project. We would have had chaperones that were staying with us and all. However, I had had a cousin that had moved from here to New York that had been murdered. At that time, family said, "No, you can't go." I remember that was very, very heartbreaking for me because I did so want to go. I also wanted to go to join all the marches in Mississippi and in the South. That was another big "No." It was always interesting to me. My mother, when I first talked about it, she was always supportive and was saying yes. But it was older brother, older aunts and uncles, and everybody that was saying, "No, girl, you don't need to go down there. No, girl. You better stay here." My family--you asked about that time, and that was what was going on when I was in school. I was even a student at Eastern and of course, I was a Delta. I think it might have been my sophomore or junior year that I would have just stepped aside to go for this project, but it was no.
- [00:40:02] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. Speaking of being a Delta, do you all have categories like silver and golden sorors?
- [00:40:12] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Well, I'm a Delta D.E.A.R. because I'm over 60. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:40:18] JOYCE HUNTER: [LAUGHTER] I just wondered about that because we have it in my sorority as well. I'm going to now move to, you lived during the era of segregation. Can you speak about that? You've already talked about school and how you got there in terms of walking. You talked about how you got to school. What about teachers?
- [00:40:43] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I went to elementary school at what is now Perry School, or like I said, it was called Harriet Street School. I was absolutely fortunate and blessed to have almost all Black teachers. I remember two white teachers. One was a second grade teacher, and everybody thought she was mean. [LAUGHTER] She was white, one second grade white teacher. Everybody thought she was mean. We had a sixth grade white teacher that everybody absolutely positively loved, and she was one of the best teachers. I had some excellent teachers--excellent Black--and she was the only white teacher I had in elementary school. She was an excellent teacher. She loved us and she poured out that we knew it. Along with the Black teacher, she expended much energy to make sure every student got everything that they needed.
- [00:41:52] JOYCE HUNTER: That's an unusual experience because when we've done these interviews, a lot of people have said they didn't have one or two Black teachers, if any at all, so you had majority.
- [00:42:04] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: No, I was blessed. I had Mr. Beatty, Charles Beatty was my elementary principal. Mrs. Butler and I'm not calling her name, but I'm sure both of you know her. She was in Ann Arbor. Miss Ida Holland, Josephine Owens. I'm seeing one, I can't call her name. The first few letters were B-A-R. What was her name? I can't remember but she was there. Mrs. Valdez, I didn't have, her but my siblings behind me had her. But no, excellent. Mr. Patton, I think both of you would probably remember his name. He was from Ann Arbor also. But no, I had excellent Black teachers.
- [00:43:14] JOYCE HUNTER: You're doing a great job remembering the majority of the names, so that's great. Were there restaurants or eating places for Blacks as you were growing up?
- [00:43:26] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: As I mentioned, there was a Black restaurant there on Harriet Street, the Blue Cafe. Later on, there was another. The ownership changed. When the ownership changed, the food also changed. For a while, there was a day time restaurant in there also. But no, we did have, around the corner--and the building is still there--we had a Black American legion and they sold dinners there. Friday and Saturday nights, that place was hot to trot. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:44:21] JOYCE HUNTER: Well, in terms of other restaurants that were white-owned like you mentioned, the one clothing store Blacks couldn't go in and shop, couldn't buy clothes or try on clothes. What about restaurants? Were there restrictions like that in terms of [OVERLAPPING]
- [00:44:35] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes. Haab's. I sometimes laugh. When I tell this story I laugh. We were the silliest little kids but when we finished elementary and went to junior high and like I said the junior high and senior high were in the same building. On the walking home, Haab's, they're on Michigan Avenue, Haab's had a window. Blacks could not go in and eat it at Haab's. There was a restaurant still down on Michigan Avenue called The Bomber. [CLAPS] Blacks could not go in The Bomber and eat. I don't know of any restaurants downtown Ypsilanti that Blacks really could go in and eat. I just can't think of any right now. But anyway, well, if we went in Cunningham's, which was a drugstore on the corner, there was a segregated lunch counter, in good old Ypsilanti. But in Haab's they had a small window and you could walk up to the window, it was on Michigan Avenue. You walked up and you gave them your order and they would bring your order to the window and you'd pay them and walk away. You could get a lunch bag full of fries for about 25 cents. We would all put our little pennies and nickels and dimes together and go there and buy a bag of french fries coming home from school and they would squirt ketchup all over them because that's what we wanted and all of our little dirty fingers going in the bag, pulling out [LAUGHTER] ketchup coated french fries, eating them. I think back on that now, how silly we were going to a window where they didn't want us inside, going to that window and buying french fries. But we wanted french fries. That was the age we were. If adults wanted to buy anything out of Haab's, they had to go to the window too. Ypsilanti has a very, very racist history. We still have some systemic racism going on here now and one of the things that I have started as mayor is I have a Race and Equity Advisory Task Force and we're meeting and I need people that are willing to come and meet with us so that we can begin to identify and address the systemic racism that is still holding on. If you don't get to the root, it's going to be in the fruit. Every now and then we see the fruit of that systemic racism popping up.
- [00:47:47] JOYCE HUNTER: That's great that you're forming a committee. Have you formed it or are you in the process of forming it?
- [00:47:51] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: We are meeting. We meet. Yes, we meet. We're meeting by Zoom. Some people unfortunately that committed to come they're not showing up and that's harmful because we're not getting everything we need. Fortunately, we do have some people that are coming and are not afraid to speak up and that's what I want. If it's racist, call it out. That's the only way we're going to get rid of racism. Is that wherever we see it, wherever we hear, I don't care who it is, call it out. You asked me about being mayor. I was at a mayor's conference. Oh, gosh. Let's see. I left on the 8th of August. It was from the 11th to the 13th of August in Sault Sainte Marie. At the opening of the conference, there was a gentleman and I was a few minutes late getting in and they had started and this gentleman was talking. I mean, beautiful welcome for us and talking about the area and shared that his grandfather had owned the land that this particular hotel that we were in was on. He said it had been a dump but his grandfather owned the land and he told us about the reservation and all and what was going on and the relationship with the city. When he sat down and the mayor of the town came up to talk and the mayor very graciously said--and I don't know the man's name--"Mr. So-and-So. He's a very well educated and very well something-else Indian." And I thought, "Oh, my God. What a racist statement." The way he said it and the tone that he said it in, I knew that he did not mean for it to be racist. I could tell that he didn't even know or consider it to be racist. Immediately I thought, "Oh, my gosh." I went to a young lady that's the facilitator that works with our mayor's group here at Michigan Municipal League. I'm President of the Michigan Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials and we have been working on exposing racism and dealing with diversity and equity and inclusion for the last four or five years and having sessions at our conferences and even day-long workshops. I went to her I said "Did you hear that?" and she said, "Well, no, I heard but." When I said what it was, I said, "That's what they say about Blacks." Oh, he's, she's such a very intelligent, articulate Black person. That's as racist as you can get. She said "I didn't hear it." I said, Should I tell him?" That was on Thursday morning. I just stewed. I said, Well, I'm going to pray about it." I really kind of stewed about it. Friday at the end of the session, I went over to him and said, "Mayor So-and-So, I'm mayor--" and introduced myself and everything. I said, "I don't want to offend you, " but I said, "What you said--" and I played it back for him, exactly what he had said. I said, "That was a very racist statement." He kind of looked--and I said, "I know that you didn't think of it as racist or mean for it to be racist, but it is." When I kept talking to him and he said, "I work for the government and I go to racism training all the time." I said "Yes, but this is one of those micro aggression things that we don't realize what it is. We just say it and it comes out and there it is." He said he was very grateful. He said, "Thank you for coming in and making that plain to me." He said, "I just never thought of it that way." We talked for a little bit. Then I went back to gather my things so that we could leave to come back down south. He came over to me. He said, "Should I apologize? Do I need to owe him?" And I said-- He said, "Because we're having breakfast tomorrow morning." I said, "What you need to do, you need to use it as an opening to begin the conversation on race and equity with him for the Native Americans that live here in your city." I was really stewing about it. The thought just kept coming to me. Well, Lois, you have charged everybody else to do it. If you see it, if you hear it, call it out.
- [00:53:41] JOYCE HUNTER: I was going to ask you how it ended or how you handled it and you shared that, so I appreciate you sharing that. Now, you mentioned you're president of a group. I didn't catch exactly what you were saying, the group that you're president of.
- [00:53:58] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Michigan Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials. There is a National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, which is an affiliate of the National League of Cities.
- [00:54:19] JOYCE HUNTER: They've been in existence for how many years? A long time?
- [00:54:23] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Well the Michigan Black Caucus, we started in 2004. George Goodman was the Director of Michigan Municipal League at the time and he was thinking about retiring. But George was determined that he wanted to get a, we call it NBC- LEO. He wanted to get an NBC group affiliate there at MML. He pulled me and three or four other Black aside and we organized, yes. Now, I don't know how long the NBC, National Black Caucus, has been around but it's a much older than we are.
- [00:55:14] JOYCE HUNTER: Now you have been president for how long?
- [00:55:17] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I was one of the original members. I was secretary at first, up until I think 2012 or 2013. I've been president since, I think it might have been 2012 or 2013.
- [00:55:34] JOYCE HUNTER: Very good. I'm going to move now into part three, which is adulthood, marriage, and family life. After you finished high school, where did you live? Did you remain there or did you move around through your adult life?
- [00:55:51] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Now, [OVERLAPPING] Oh, go ahead. I'm sorry.
- [00:55:53] JOYCE HUNTER: What was the reason for the moves? There was multiple questions in there. If you need me to repeat, I can do that.
- [00:55:59] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I lived at home while I went to Eastern. I graduated from EMU in January of '65. I stayed that extra semester, I was due to have graduated in June of '64. However, my family insisted that I get a teaching certificate. My degree was in, I was getting a BSW, Bachelor of Social Work, but my family insisted just like they wouldn't let me go South, wouldn't let me go to New York, they insisted that I get a teaching certificate. In order to do that, I had to stay an extra semester so that I could do practice teaching. I graduated in January of 1965, and I got married in February of 1965. My former husband was in the army and he was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Right after marriage, the wedding, we moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In June of '65, he was being sent to Vietnam, so I moved back to Ypsilanti and he was out of the army, discharged in November '65. His family, although he was basically from Detroit, he had family in Kansas City, and so we moved to Kansas City, Missouri in December of '65. I lived in Kansas City, Missouri from 1965 until 1983 when I left to go to the mission field. My first stop on the mission field was in Haiti and I lived in Haiti for three years. Probably would have stayed in Haiti, but that same year, in November, there was the coup and Baby Doc was overthrown and my pastor just didn't feel like it was safe for me to go back. I then went to St. Vincent and another island for short visits and then actually moved into Trinidad, and to say it correctly, Trinidad and Tobago is the country. But I lived on the island of Trinidad. Traveling out from Trinidad, in all total, I touched 15 different islands and 15 different nations, I should say. Some of them were islands and down into South America: Venezuela, Colombia, Suriname, Guyana, and maybe another South American country I'm not thinking of right now. [OVERLAPPING] From there I came home in 1991 expecting to go back to Trinidad, and the Lord said, "No." I was left here. He had me stay here. I was a caregiver for my mother's older sister and her husband from late '92 till--Aunt Marie was the last one to die--she died at '99. So I was caregiver. And I've been here in Ypsilanti since. She died in 1999, and in 2000 I was elected to City Council.
- [01:00:07] JOYCE HUNTER: Let me ask a couple questions. That's a lot of traveling, and I love to travel, so it sounds exciting. I want to know, did you do that traveling and move around by yourself?
- [01:00:21] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes.
- [01:00:23] JOYCE HUNTER: All right. You didn't have any inhibitions about that, huh?
- [01:00:31] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: You know, Joyce, when you're doing what you know you were born to do, and you know you're doing do and what God wants you to do, no. [LAUGHTER] I know it sounds strange. But sometimes I think about it. But God was so gracious that everywhere I went, he always had someone prepared for me to meet and to join with. When I was in Trinidad, Trinidad is an interesting place. It's almost equally divided: Black, Chinese, and East Indian. I have an East Indian family there now in fact, just last week we Zoomed and talked. Some of the places I went, I went knowing people before I went there. When I went into Suriname, I hadn't met the pastor that I was going to stay with. She had been there in Trinidad but I had not met her while she was there. But that was a very, oh gosh, exciting and wonderful visit. When I went to Guyana, I knew--I had met--the pastor and his sister and others from Guyana in Trinidad. I knew them, went there knowing who I was going to be with. In Venezuela, I didn't know the pastors or people I was going to be with. I don't even know how I got to Venezuela [LAUGHTER].
- [01:02:35] JOYCE HUNTER: You just showed up there, huh? [LAUGHTER]
- [01:02:41] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: When you think about it, when I went to Colombia, there was a young Colombian in Trinidad and he was asking us--they had set up this conference. He was asking the pastor whose family I was living with--him and other pastors from Trinidad--he insisted that I come along. I went and that was exciting because the conference--they had 10,000 people there at the conference. It's been a long time since I thought about that. That was such an exciting opportunity [NOISE] to minister, to preach to 10,000 people.
- [01:03:33] JOYCE HUNTER: So when you were there, you actually presented? You [OVERLAPPING].
- [01:03:38] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh, yes.
- [01:03:39] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [01:03:41] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes. I was on the program and I had an afternoon session that I did minister, yes.
- [01:03:51] JOYCE HUNTER: Very good.
- [01:03:52] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes.
- [01:03:53] JOYCE HUNTER: The next question is, you kind of covered them already, but it included questions about married life and children, and you already answered that unless there's anything else you want to add to it about married life?
- [01:04:07] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: No.
- [01:04:10] JOYCE HUNTER: Let's go into work and retirement. You already more or less said that you don't feel like you've really retired, but I'm going to ask you a couple of questions. I know you mentioned it, but I'll repeat it. What was your main field of employment?
- [01:04:28] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Social work.
- [01:04:32] JOYCE HUNTER: What did you most value about what you did for a living and why?
- [01:04:42] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: The families that I worked with. Most of my social work was with families or girl groups, I worked a lot with girls. Almost all of my social work was with 501(c)(3) agencies, except I was a social worker for the Teenage Parents Center in Kansas City. I was there for five years, and it hurts my heart but we had 2,500 girls come through our Teenage Parents Center in five years.
- [01:05:30] JOYCE HUNTER: That's a lot.
- [01:05:35] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: It's sad. Out of that, we had maybe five that were married. I had clients as young as 11 years of age, students as young as 11 years of age coming through, but it was fulfilling in that you got to touch people's lives. You touched [inaudible 01:06:04] lives. I didn't really do any real teaching until I was living here back in Michigan in the 90s. I met someone from Christian Love Church. They had just started Genesis Christian Academy. She heard me talking about being a missionary. She invited me over to talk to the parents in a couple of sessions and I did. Out of that, they started calling me to come and substitute and so I did. And then one teacher decided to leave early, left the semester. I started teaching there and I taught there for a couple of years. I was really glad I got the teaching certificate after all, but I fought it [LAUGHTER] in the beginning.
- [01:07:04] JOYCE HUNTER: But it worked out for you?
- [01:07:06] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yes.
- [01:07:07] JOYCE HUNTER: Yeah.
- [01:07:10] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: When I went to Missouri, I did get a teaching license. Their certificates, they're good forever. They're lifetime. Not like here in Michigan, where you have to keep reapplying, no.
- [01:07:27] JOYCE HUNTER: Yeah, you have to renew here but you don't in Missouri.
- [01:07:30] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: No.
- [01:07:31] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [01:07:32] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I haven't lived in Kansas City now for what, 30, 40 years or so but I could go back there and teach, yeah.
- [01:07:40] JOYCE HUNTER: Very good. When thinking back on your working adult life, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time, and how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [01:08:00] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh wow. Okay, I was in Kansas, living in Kansas City when Martin Luther King was killed. I was doing social work and I'm trying to remember who I was, can't quite remember who I was working for, but because I was a social worker, I was called [NOISE] in. I know I was at that time taking some classes at UMKC. I was called in to help, to be a volunteer social worker at the jail, the county jail. Fortunately, my sister-in-law's mother, Miss Peaches, we called her, she had been working there at the jail with the women for years. She just put her arm around me those few hours that I was there but it was getting more and more hectic there at the jail. I can't remember exactly who it was. I was there from afternoon going into the evening, and someone very high up at the jail decided that it was time to let those of us that were civilians, to release us to go home. But that was because all out riot had broken out in Kansas City behind the news of King's death.
- [01:09:41] JOYCE HUNTER: Thank you for sharing that. We're going to move to the last part, which is historical social events. Tell me how it is for you to live in this community, how it's been for you to live in this community?
- [01:09:57] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: To live in Ypsilanti?
- [01:09:59] JOYCE HUNTER: Yes.
- [01:10:02] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Oh wow. It's home.
- [01:10:04] JOYCE HUNTER: It's home. That sums it up, right? [LAUGHTER]
- [01:10:05] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Yeah, it's home.
- [01:10:10] JOYCE HUNTER: All right. When thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [01:10:18] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Let me say what I am most proud of having been on Ypsilanti City Council has been the saving of Parkridge Community Center. Back in 2003 and 2004, the council voted--maybe it was '05 or '06, somewhere in there, early 2000s. The council wanted to shut down, they crossed out the recreation line out of budget and they were going to close Parkridge Center, and I said, "No, you're not." I had gone to the Center, growing up, I knew what the Center meant. I was a member of Palm Leaf Club and Mrs. Thelma Goodman who had owned the dress shop that I worked at, who called herself my other mother, and Mrs. Gertrude Francois, who I had grown up around also, they were very instrumental in the beginning of Parkridge, and I just said, "No," and I stepped in and began seeking help and was able to keep it open going, was fortunate enough to get Mr. John Barfield interested and he just took the lead on it and kept pouring in until it was stabilized. That's as far as my time on Council. I don't do anything else, for me.
- [01:12:04] JOYCE HUNTER: I was going to mention to you that we interviewed John Barfield and he talks about growing up and going to the Parkridge Center, so to hear you come and talk about it too as part of this interview, it's great to have you share that. I can tell it's emotional for you. Yes. What would you say has changed the most from the time you were a young person to now?
- [01:12:36] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: How much time you got.
- [01:12:39] JOYCE HUNTER: [LAUGHTER]. Just give me a couple of things [LAUGHTER].
- [01:12:46] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Ypsilanti is so different and it's changing day by day, day by day. One, remember I said, when I was growing up, most Black people, in fact, all Black people knew everybody.
- [01:13:05] JOYCE HUNTER: Yes.
- [01:13:07] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Most of us were related either by marriage or by blood or we're from the same places in Alabama or the same places in Mississippi or whatever and there was a connection and everybody not only knew everybody--and everybody was concerned about everybody, and yeah, there were the family squabbles and arguments and this family didn't like that--but when it all came down, everybody supported everyone. Now, we don't have that. So many people, we don't know each other anymore. There's not that family camaraderie or the friend camaraderie, or just the connections that were there. They're not there. It would be really interesting to know how many people living in Ypsilanti now, their roots are in Ypsilanti, meaning that they were born here, they grew up here. We have lots of people, I venture to say that we have more people that have come here to go to Eastern that stayed here, or they moved to Ypsilanti, than we have--and I might be wrong--that were actually born and raised here. That's something that has changed. Definitely, we do not have the Black businesses or Black business district that we had. But that was wiped out in the '60s. There's just lots of changes.
- [01:15:11] JOYCE HUNTER: Those are two good ones that you shared, which reminds me that that's one of the things we've been trying to do with this project is interview people that grew up in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti areas that can share the kind of history that you've shared with us today, which is really much appreciated. The last question I'm going to ask you is, what advice would you give to the younger generation?
- [01:15:44] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: Live in truth. It has been said and it is very true, "We live in a post-truth world." I would say not only to young people, but I would say to younger people, to older people, in-between people. Live in truth. We have got to, if we don't start living in truth, we don't know where we're going to end up.
- [01:16:19] JOYCE HUNTER: That's a great way to end, live in truth. That was the last question. I'm going to give you an opportunity if you have any final thoughts or sayings that you'd like to share with us before we end this interview?
- [01:16:46] LOIS ALLEN-RICHARDSON: I can't think of anything right now. I'm still caught up in whatever it was, probably Parkridge or whatever. No. I would say to the Christians that are listening to this and it's a word for everyone. It's time for us to set aside anything that contradicts truth. We have got to begin to address it. Our country right now is being torn apart by a big lie. If we that know the truth and know Him, who is truth, if we don't speak the truth, live the truth, and portray the truth, we will not have a safe place for us to live.
- [01:18:16] JOYCE HUNTER: Thank you so much. That's a wonderful way to end.
August 24, 2021
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Harriet Street School
Parkridge Community Center
Harriet Street Black Business District
Black American Businesses
Black American Community Organizations
Ypsilanti City Council
Black American Women
Black American Politicians
Goodman's Fashion Center
Allen's Super Markets
Reliable Cab Co.
Bop Shop Records (Ypsilanti)
Richardson's Funeral Home
The Place Restaurant (Ypsilanti)
Washington Brothers Grocery (Ypsilanti)
310 Bar (Ypsilanti)
Northern Lights Bar (Ypsilanti)
Gordon's Texaco Service
Parkridge Urban Renewal Project
Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum and Bugle Corps
Civil Rights Movement
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
Michigan Black Caucus of Elected Officials
Palm Leaf Club
LOH Community Centers
LOH Community Centers - Parkridge
LOH Entrepreneurship - Harriet Street
AACHM Living Oral History
J. D. Hall
Amos S. Washington
William Jerry Bishop
Eugene Charles Beatty
Martin Luther King Jr.
John W. Barfield
Harriet St Ypsilanti
Kansas City MO
Trinidad and Tobago