Vanessa Williams Explains Why She’s Returning to the Miss America Pageant 32 Years After They Snatched Her Crown

Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele
Vanessa Williams attends the 15th Annual USTA Opening Night Gala at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Aug. 31, 2015, in New York City. 
Rob Kim/Getty Images

Time usually does heal all wounds, even the ones you've acquired after being publicly humiliated. Actress and singer Vanessa Williams knows that all too well. 

Williams is returning to the Miss America Pageant this year as one of its judges. She was the first African American to be crowned Miss America, in 1983, and was also the first person to be forced to relinquish that title after nude photos of her were published in a magazine 10 months after she won the crown. 


During an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, Williams explained how all of that is in the past and said that her relationship with the Miss America Organization is enjoying a new chapter. 

"It's a new day there," Williams said. "There's a lot of people that do feel that I should return … and they are inviting me back as an example of, 'This is what can happen to you in your life,' " she continued. 

The backlash that Williams received, as a result of being a black Miss America and then because of the nude photos that surfaced, was vicious and, well, racist. 

"There had been death threats against me," Williams said. "They had an FBI box that they would keep all the death threats in. And a hotline with the FBI saying, 'She's going to be in Chicago. What should she be aware of?'


"I had sharpshooters on the top of the buildings when I had my first parade. In one of the parades down South … usually they have Miss America in a convertible. I had to be inside," Williams recalls. 

Williams said that who she was as a person was misconstrued as a result of the nude photos. She wasn't exactly a goody-two-shoes beauty-pageant model, but she also wasn't the sexed-up woman that the nude photos might have led people to believe she was. 


"It was two drastically different images. … That was the issue. It was Miss America, who's really kind of untouched in that reality. And then there was this woman in a picture," Williams said.

Williams went on to amass a successful career in music and film, which she thinks is testament to the type of woman she was all along. 


"The dust always settles," Williams said. "And once the dust settles, it hasn't changed who you are. You're still the same."

The 2016 Miss America Pageant will air Sept. 13. 

Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.


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