BLACK VOICES
09/17/2013 11:25 am ET

This Day In History: Vanessa Williams Is Crowned The First Black Miss America (PHOTOS)

AP

On September 17th 1983, Vanessa Williams broke color barriers and made history becoming the first black Miss America.

Although she wasn't the first black woman to take the stage at the pageant, she was the first to take the crown. In 1970, Cheryl Brown of Iowa, won her state title and made it to the national stage as a contestant. Miss Arkansas Lencola Sullivan was the first black woman to make it to the top five.

Upon winning, Williams faced a swarm of hate mail and racist comments, similar to the backlash faced by newly crowned Miss America Nina Davuluri, the first winner of Indian heritage.

"I never imagined I'd be that depressed about being Miss America," Williams explained to PEOPLE magazine.

Williams held the title of Miss America 1984, but her reign ended early due to scandalous unauthorized nude photos published of her in Penthouse magazine. But the scandal didn't stop her.

"I'm just moving on, for there is nothing I can do to change that, so I just have to deal with it and move on," she said in a 1990 interview with Ebony magazine. "If situations arose where I could get revenge, I absolutely would. But at this point, success is the best revenge."

She cleaned up her image, and broke into the film and music industry creating a lasting career that's still going strong 30 years later. At the age of 50, she's starring on Broadway in "The Trip To Bountiful" and has a number of movies, albums, and awards under her belt.

vanessa williams miss america

PHOTO GALLERIES
Vanessa Williams' Beauty Evolution
Subscribe to the Black Voices email.
Stay plugged in with the stories on black life and culture.

CONVERSATIONS