Naomi Sims, "First Black Supermodel," Dead at 61

Naomi Sims, "First Black Supermodel," Dead at 61

Dec. 1972: Interview cover with Andy Warhol

>> The title of "first black supermodel" has been handed out to Beverly Johnson, the first African American woman to score the cover of Vogue, or Donyale Luna, who Vogue named model of the year in 1966, but Naomi Sims, who died of cancer Saturday, at 61, held her own right to the title. 

Halston referred to her as "the first [black supermodel]" in 1974: "She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers.”  When modeling agencies turned her down in the late '60s, she went straight to photographers, finally convincing Gosta Peterson to capture her for the cover of The New York Times Magazine's Fashions of the Times supplement in 1967; the image is now appearing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Model as Muse" exhibit.  Sims sent out the image to ad agencies, and within a year, she was earning $1,000 and had a national AT&T TV commercial campaign wearing Bill Blass.  

She paved the way for the likes of Pat Cleveland, Beverly Johnson, gave up modeling after five years in favor of pursuing what became a multimillion dollar beauty empire, and thought of her race as an advantage: "It’s ‘in’ to use me, and maybe some people do it when they don’t really like me. But even if they are prejudiced, they have to be tactful if they want a good picture.”