Black in the Day…There She is, Miss America
September 17, 1983:
On this day 20-year-old Vanessa Williams became the first Black Woman to win the Miss America crown in its 63 year history. This was an extraordinary feat considering the fact that Blacks weren’t even allowed to be contestants during the competition’s first 30 years. Less than a year later, on July 23, 1984, Williams gave up her crown after nude photos of her surfaced. Williams learned that Penthouse magazine would be publishing the unauthorized nude photographs of her in an upcoming issue. Amid growing media controversy and scrutiny, Williams resigned as Miss America in July 1984 (under pressure from the Miss America Organization). Williams rebounded from the scandal with a successful career as a singer and actress. In 1988, she released her debut studio album The Right Stuff whose title single saw moderate success before “Dreamin’” peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the United States in 1989. With her second and third studio albums, The Comfort Zone (1991) and The Sweetest Days (1994), she saw continued commercial success and received multiple Grammy Award nominations – this included her number-one hit (in early 1992) and signature song, “Save the Best for Last“, which she performed live at the 1993 Grammy Awards ceremonies. Her recent studio albums include Everlasting Love (2005) and The Real Thing (2009).
As an actress, Williams enjoyed success on both stage and screen, receiving an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for her portrayal of Teri Joseph in the film Soul Food (1997). Her best known television roles are that of Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty (2006–10), for which she was nominated three times for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and Renee Perry on Desperate Housewives (2010–12). She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on March 19, 2007.
Williams is also involved with a number of humanitarian causes. She is a supporter of LGBT rights and same sex marriage, and in 2011 she participated in a Human Rights Campaign entitled “New Yorkers for Marriage Equality”. She is also partnered with Dress For Success, an organization that provides professional attire for low-income women, to help support their job-search and interview process. In addition, Williams is involved with The San Miquel Academy of Newburgh, a school for boys at risk.