Sam Haskell III, executive chairman and CEO for Miss America, and Vanessa Williams speak onstage during the 2016 Miss America competition Sept. 13, 2015, in Atlantic City, N.J. 
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It only took three decades, but I guess it’s better late than never? On Sunday night, Vanessa Williams returned as a judge for the Miss America pageant, just 32 years after becoming the first black woman to win the event, and then subsequently resigning 10 months later after nude photos of her were released. It’s safe to say that Williams’ return to the stage Sunday night brought back good and bad memories. But the pageant’s CEO, Sam Haskell III, made right with Williams live on television.

“I have been a close friend to this beautiful and talented lady for 32 years,” Haskell told the audience and Williams. “You have lived your life in grace and dignity, and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984 when you resigned.


“Though none of us currently in the organization were involved then, on behalf of today’s organization, I want to apologize to you and to your mother, Miss Helen Williams,” Haskell continued. “I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less than the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be.”

As Williams stood teary-eyed, she received a round of applause from the audience and contestants.

“Thank you so much, Sam. So unexpected and so beautiful,” Williams said.

“I did the best that I could in my reign as Miss America, 1983 to 1984,” Williams continued. “On behalf of my family, my mother in particular; Brian Edwards, who orchestrated this entire thing to bring me back; and your leadership, your integrity and you bringing this pageant back to what it ought to be. I love you, I love the girls and I’m so honored to be back.”


After the niceties were exchanged, the pomp and circumstance of the pageant continued, with Betty Cantrell of Georgia being crowned the new Miss America.