Rose Parade 2015: Woman to ride float 60 years after she was denied because of African-American heritage

Rose Parade 2015: Woman to ride float 60 years after she was denied because of African-American heritage

Pasadena Star-News
Pasadena, California

Sarah Favot, Pasadena Star-News

Joan Williams, 82, of Pasadena, holding a portrait of herself wearing a crown from when she was selected as “Miss Crown City” by her colleagues in City Hall in 1958 and was supposed to ride on the city-sponsored Rose Parade float. When city officials found out she was black, they took that honor away saying, the city couldn’t afford a float that year. Now nearly 60 years later, Williams will ride on the opening banner float during the 2015 Rose Parade. Walt Mancini/Staff Photographer

PASADENA >> Nearly 60 years after she was promised a seat on a Rose Parade float, only to have that honor taken away when city officials found out she was African-American, Joan Williams will be seated at the head of the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day as it cruises down Colorado Boulevard.

Williams, 82, was named “Miss Crown City” in 1957, an honor bestowed upon one City Hall employee who would ride on a city-sponsored float during the Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 1958. The honor was like the Rose Queen title — Miss Crown City would attend numerous events leading up to the parade, representing the city.

Williams, then 27 years old and a mother of two young children, was thrilled.

“I was young and it was exciting,” Williams said.

A couple of months later, however, she experienced a grave disappointment, according to Jet Magazine.

Source: Jet Magazine

“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,” the 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 article continued.

Williams said she never bought that reasoning. If the city didn’t have enough money, it wouldn’t have named a Miss Crown City months before the parade, she said. The city had even paid for a portrait of Williams in a gown, corsage and tiara.

Williams attended a city employees picnic at Brookside Park where a photographer from Jet wanted to take her picture with the mayor at the time. The mayor refused, she said.

“It was one of the first times, as an adult, I began to grow up and realize what racism is,” she said…

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