'Pioneer:' Daughter of Riverhead's first African-American firefighter remembers his legacy

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RIVERHEAD -

The daughter of Riverhead's first African-American firefighter says Richard Ligon lived with honor, valor and commitment to service.

"I look at my dad as a pioneer," says his daughter Lynn Ligon. "He set examples, not just for black people, but for all races."

Lynn was only 11 years old when her father began to serve in Riverhead's volunteer fire department. She says she remembers the struggle her father endured to serve his community.

"When he was fighting to get into the department, there was a lot of racial tension going on and kids would come and make fun of me because he was trying to get in the department," Lynn recalls.

In 1975, Ligon's application to join the Riverhead volunteer fire department was rejected. It wasn't until he filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Division that he was allowed to join. At the time, many departments were all white, even in minority communities. Back then, a single member of the department could block an African-American candidate from serving, a process called black-balling.

Lynn says things were tough for her father at first, but things got better.

"His peers recognized that he wasn't a bad person, like they had presumed him to be," she says.

Ligon answered the call to service until the day before he died in 2017. He was 77 years old.

Lynn says her father broke barriers to pave the way for others who want to serve regardless of the color of their skin.

"I've realized that he was not there just for him," she says. "He was there to sacrifice. And he always had the love of people in his mind and heart."

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