Joan Williams says she's excited to be seated at the head of Pasadena's 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade, but she wishes she would have been able to do so 60 years ago.
Williams was was named “Miss Crown City” in 1957 but her appearance was cancelled at the last minute when city officials realized she was black.
The “Miss Crown City” title was like today’s “Rose Queen” title. Members of the royal court serve as ambassadors to the parade—an event broadcasted in more than 200 countries. Williams was the first black woman to be crowned queen for the Rose Parade. The city of Pasadena even paid for a portrait of Williams in a gown, a tiara and she was supposed to attend a number of events representing the city.
But when city officials found out she was black, they took that honor away, saying the city couldn’t afford a float that year.
“For when word spread that light-complexioned Mrs. Williams was a Negro, fellow employees in the municipal office where she works as an accountant-clerk suddenly stopped speaking to her,” Jet Magazine reported in January 1959. “And Mrs. Williams did not ride on a float, because the City of Pasadena neglected to include one in its own parade. Too many others were already entered, explained an official.”
The mayor of Pasadena at the time refused to take a picture with her for Jet Magazine, Williams told the Pasadena Star News.
Today, she says she appreciates the city’s gesture to invite her back to the parade.
“To be on that float is especially important because it will point out that with people of goodwill working to correct these mistakes, change can come,” Williams told the Pasadena Weekly. “We hope it won’t take so long, but when you look at our history, none of it has happened overnight, none of it has happened without a fight. The fight goes on.”
Williams will appear in the leading Rose Parade banner float on January 1st, 2015. This parade's theme is focused around inspiring stories.
(Photos via KABC)