Skip To Content
  • BHM2021 badge

Vanessa Williams Recalls The "Hurtful" Backlash She Received From The Black Community After Winning Miss America

“It was tough to take that criticism."

Back in 1983, Vanessa Williams made history when she became the first Black woman crowned Miss America. Although it was a big win for her, she remembers facing a lot of criticism from both the Black and white communities in America.

Crowned the new Miss America 1984, Miss New York, Vanessa L. Williams beams as she is applauded by runners-up Miss Virginia, Lisa Aliff (left), and Miss Ohio, Pamela Rigas (right)
Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

“I was not seen as a 20-year-old who is a junior in college,” she recalled on A&E’s The Table Is Ours podcast. “I was seen as a symbol, but also seen as a Black woman, and [I was] also seen as someone who was supposed to represent the American beauty.”

Vanessa Williams during a Good Morning America interview with Robin Roberts
Heidi Gutman / Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

“And there are a lot of folks that did not believe that having brown skin and being a Black woman represented the Miss America ideal,” Williams continued.

Vannessa Williams in 1983 at the Miss America Pageant wearing her tiara and a sequined dress with a sash belt while holding a rose
Nbc / Getty Images

Things got so bad that Williams remembers having “sharpshooters” at her homecoming parade.

American model and actor Vanessa Williams, the first African - American Miss America, smiles while appearing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Tom Gates / Getty Images

“There were sharpshooters on the top of [the] roofs of my hometown, just because of the threats that were against me because of who I was," she said. "I had death threats."

Vanessa Williams poses for photographers after being crowned Miss America in1983 in New York City
Yvonne Hemsey / Getty Images

However, the worst threats she received were the ones that came from her “own people.”

Miss New York Vanessa Williams winner of the 57th Miss America Pageant for 1984
Nbc / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images

“Not only was I getting attacked from white folks saying she doesn’t represent us, but some Black folks [said], ‘Oh they only picked her cause she’s [light-skinned with] light eyes,’” Williams recalled. “[They] kind of dismissed my talent, my intellect, and my achievement. So that was probably more hurtful.”

Miss New York Vanessa Williams winner of the 57th Miss America Pageant for 1984
Nbc / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Looking back, Williams said it was “tough to take that criticism” from the Black community. But thanks to her ignoring “a lot” of negative comments on social media, she’s learned to accept her win wholeheartedly.

Actress and singer Vanessa Williams at the Apollo Theater 2005 Spring Benefit
Paul Hawthorne / Getty Images
Brooke Greenberg

BuzzFeed Daily

Keep up with the latest daily buzz with the BuzzFeed Daily newsletter!

Newsletter signup form