First Culture

Beverly Johnson Was The First Black Woman To Appear On The Cover Of Vogue

Beverly Johnson Was The First Black Woman To Appear On The Cover Of Vogue

During a summer break in 1971, criminal justice major and lawyer aspirant at Northeastern University, Beverly decided to try her hands at modelling. Coming from a world that was comfortable with her and her color, her father, a machine operator and her mother, a surgical technician, the 19 year old girl with lofty dreams was however stunned  to meet an industry that did not – because of her race – particularly favor her.

Her journey to modelling had never been part of the plan, as a brilliant swimmer who nearly qualified for the Olympics and who was on a full scholarship at the university, Johnson’s decision had been fueled by her friends in school who believed she would make a great model. And so one morning, her mother roamed the streets of New York with her 19 year old daughter looking for modelling agencies, and although, a few of them turned them down,  luck smiled on them when Glamour had however accepted her.

Johnson’s journey to fame started when she first covered Glamour that same year, her cover was a shattering of the social prejudice on race and beauty and thus went on to experience massive sales. This led her to the resolution to quit school and focus on her modelling career undeterred by an industry so hostile to people of color and her manager who told her that big magazine covers won’t happen because of the color of her skin.

Johnson on Vogue in 1974

In 1974, Johnson broke new grounds in the modelling industry when she stunned on the cover of vogue becoming the first black woman to ever achieve that feat in the roughly 80 years existence of the world’s foremost fashion magazine. 21 year old Johnson who had at that time been oblivious of the knowledge that no black woman before her had ever been on the cover of the magazine was infuriated when she found out.

In a feature on BBC, Johnson said, “A lot of photographers just didn’t see your beauty. Many didn’t know how to light you. Kodak had to add darker colors to their spectrum so that the color came out true. The hairdressers were just confused, they had probably never touched a black woman’s hair.”

And maybe this is what is most peculiar about this story, the irony of making such vital history without even realizing it oneself.

Either way, Johnson paved the way for Gail O Neil and Naomi Campbell all the black models after her in that proverbial photo of her wearing a red lipstick, and matching red nail polish.


Featured Image: Huffington Post

References: BBC and Black Past



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Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke

Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke

Senior Editor working out of East Africa.

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Beverly Johnson Was The First Black Woman To Appear On The Cover Of Vogue

by Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke time to read: 2 min