V is for Vanessa L. Williams

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then “our ideal,” as Bert Parks used to sing at the Miss America pageant, the event about which he crooned, was, let’s say, limited in hue. In fact, until the early 1970s, “non-white women were barred from competing, a restriction that was codified in the pageant’s ‘Rule number seven’, which stated that ‘contestants must be of good health and of the white race.'” Some of the more prominent winners were Bess Myerson (NY-1945, the only Jewish winner), Lee Meriwether (CA-1955), Mary Ann Mobley (MS-1959), and Phyllis George (TX-1971).

The result of this overt racism was the institution of the Miss Black America pageant in 1968.

Then in 1984, the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams of New York was crowned. The discussion from some nattering nabobs of negativism, though, was that she won only because she was a light-skinned, green-eyed black woman, that she was not “black enough.” Then the terrible news that she was compelled to resign because of some pictures she had taken a couple years earlier had found their way into Penthouse magazine. The mortification among many black people I spoke with at the time was quite great. Interestingly, the last seven weeks of that term was completed by Suzette Charles of New Jersey, yet another black woman.

One might have thought that the scandal would have snuffed out the career of Vanessa Lynn Williams before it started; it did not. She has reached stardom as both as a singer (her debut album in 1988 was The Right Stuff) and actress (Into the Woods, on Broadway; Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, on TV), thus earning her “multiple Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award nominations. She is arguably the most successful Miss America winner in the field of entertainment.”

My favorite song of hers – yes, it’s out of season – is What Child Is This [LISTEN].

ABC Wednesday – Round 12

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29 thoughts on “V is for Vanessa L. Williams”

  1. I didn’t know that even in the eighties there was this ridiculous, horrible discrimination. Are people really so stupid that they still don’t know that we all come from Africa? That’s where the roots of humanity lie.

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  2. I’ve thought about how talented and successful Vanessa Williams has been compared to other Miss America winners. I didn’t think she should have had to resign but as it turned out it didn’t hurt her long term.

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  3. She really is a lovely woman, no matter her color.
    I guess I lived under a rock and never realized there was an actual rule for the Miss America to be white.
    Discrimination is so difficult to overcome but I’m glad Vanessa did.

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  4. I’m glad that the old rules have gone by the wayside.
    lovely lady with a lovely VOICE! I’d forgotten that she sang because she’s been on TV so much, with no singing. I like her jazzy rendition of one of my favorite Christmas songs. great choice for V!

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  5. It’s like politicians. If you dig deep enough you can always find some dirt.I honestly think that I grew up without any racist feelings; first because there wasn’t too much of that going on in England when I was a child; second because I grew up in a village where we never saw a black person, and we didn’t have a TV to mold our thoughts until I was about 15. When I went to college we had to choose our roommates and there was a black girl from Nigeria and it seems nobody wanted to room with her. By this time racism was growing in the cities and most of the students at my college came from city areas. So I roomed with Dorothy and I thought it was shameful that there had been a problem. She did wonderfully well, overcoming the language barrier and went back to Nigeria to become a principal. I often wonder about her when I hear about the massacres that have gone on in that area.

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  6. I still remember her amazing win (and I didn’t know that about the discriminatory rule, horrible!) and then the scandal…and have enjoyed watching her career grow since! Beautiful, talented, resilient. Nope, a bit of scandal didn’t hurt her, the most successful Miss America indeed – the one that broke the mold!

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  7. Noticing the interchange – Miss Black America and black Miss America. I remember reading about Vanessa Williams when I was in 6th grade. I like her Colors of the Wind.

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  8. I didn’t know that black women were not allowed to participate. Must be the envy of the dull white blonds probably ! the most beautiful women are often the mixtures between black and white ! Anyway what is considered as “beauty” in the last years lets me doubt about good tastes !

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  9. I didn’t know about Rule #7. “Must be of good health and of the white race.” I think I’m gonna start using that in conversation. As a hetoro male I have no problem with sexist institutions. But official racism is inexcusable. I urinate on the owners of the Miss America Pageant.

    I suspect that for Vanessa Williams the scandal ended up working for her the way “Banned In Boston” worked for books, or the way that deliberately released grainy pron video shot in a hotel room launched Paris Hilton’s non-career. The authorities were loudly scandalized, while us common folks didn’t care too much about the morality or whatever. But suddenly we were paying attention. After that Vanessa Williams’ talent took over.

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  10. Beautiful and multi talented. That is some Christmas light show on the video, thank goodness I’m watching it in the light nights of June.

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  11. I like Vanessa Williams too. I dutifully went to the YouTube link and enjoyed the jazzy version of What Child is This. Her back up group of musicians is fantastic. Yet found myself puzzled by the emphasis on the club scene with ashtrays and empty drinks. No matter how hard I tried to interpret it, it seemed too removed from the theme of the song. Oh well. who cares what I think.

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  12. Roger – Yes I know they abandoned Rule #7 some 40 years ago. (I can read, thank you.) They abandoned it when you and I were in our late teens.

    You may also remember that back in the 1970s Miss America was considered something important, an annual event that everyone followed. The Pageant was a relic of our parents, and as they faded and the Baby Boomers rose the Pageant became less important. Us Baby Boomers continue holding the Pageant because our parents held it. I think as the Baby Boomers give way to Xs or Millennials or whatever then the Pageant will quietly disappear.

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  13. Excellent V post! I love Vanessa Williams, her Christmas CD is one of my all time favorites! As for the Miss America pageant, though I must admit I used to enjoy watching it (I’m not sure what compelled me), I feel, at this very moment, that perhaps it is an activity with zero value.

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  14. She truly is beautiful. The song is a wonderful Christmas classic. I just found the lyrics to this song were written by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898); taken from his poem “The Manger Throne.” Interesting, and you were the Very inspiration for this Variation of a theme! 😉

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