african american model


Donyale Luna became the first black model in the world to appear on the cover of a major fashion magazine…..the  March 1966 British issue of Vogue. It took another eight years for the magazine’s American counterpart to do the same…..Beverly Johnson in 1974.

With her exotic looks, Donyale quickly rose to fame in the modeling world with Harper’s Bazaar featuring a sketch of her on the cover of its January 1965 issue, in addition to a six-page feature of Luna that caused advertisers in the south to pull advertising, with some readers actually canceling their subscription.

A piece from New York Magazine’s Andrew Sullivan over the weekend ended with an old, well-worn trope: Asian-Americans, with their “solid two-parent family structures,” are a shining example of how to overcome discrimination. An essay that began by imagining why Democrats feel sorry for Hillary Clinton — and then detoured to President Trump’s policies — drifted to this troubling ending:

“Today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?”

Sullivan’s piece, rife with generalizations about a group as vastly diverse as Asian-Americans, rightfully raised hackles. Not only inaccurate, his piece spreads the idea that Asian-Americans as a group are monolithic, even though parsing data by ethnicity reveals a host of disparities; for example, Bhutanese-Americans have far higher rates of poverty than other Asian populations, like Japanese-Americans. And at the root of Sullivan’s pernicious argument is the idea that black failure and Asian success cannot be explained by inequities and racism, and that they are one and the same; this allows a segment of white America to avoid any responsibility for addressing racism or the damage it continues to inflict.

“Sullivan’s comments showcase a classic and tenacious conservative strategy,” Janelle Wong, the director of Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, said in an email. This strategy, she said, involves “1) ignoring the role that selective recruitment of highly educated Asian immigrants has played in Asian American success followed by 2) making a flawed comparison between Asian Americans and other groups, particularly Black Americans, to argue that racism, including more than two centuries of black enslavement, can be overcome by hard work and strong family values.”

‘Model Minority’ Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians And Blacks

Illustration: Chelsea Beck/NPR


Patricia Cleveland initially attained success in the 1960s and 1970s and was one of the first African-American models within the fashion industry to achieve prominence as both a runway and print modeL.

Despite her early success, Cleveland grew disillusioned with America and what she perceived to be its racist attitudes towards black models.She relocated to Paris in 1970, vowing never to return to the United States until a black model appeared on the American cover of Vogue. Cleveland returned to the U.S. in 1974 to continue her successful modeling career after Beverly Johnson became the first black model to appear on the cover of American Vogue in August 1974.


Beverly Johnson was one of America’s top models during the 70s and 80s and was the first African American woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue in 1974

After her groundbreaking cover, Johnson used her celebrity to champion civil rights causes and open doors for other black models. In the years since, she’s become an actress, entrepreneur, and author, but Johnson can still pose with the best of them. Though she would later go on to grace Vogue’s cover three more times, Johnson’s historic first earned her a place in history and gave modeling one of its biggest stars.


Naomi Sims is widely credited as being the first African American supermodel. She  achieved worldwide recognition from the late 1960s into the early 1970s, appearing on the covers of prestigious fashion and popular magazines, including the first black model to be featured on Ladies Home Journal (1968) and Life Magazine (1969).

Sims retired from fashion modeling in 1973 and created a wildly successful wig business, in addition to writing books about modeling and beauty.