Beverly Johnson made history in August 1974 when she became the first Black model to land the cover of Vogue magazine and, in turn, inspired countless other Black girls to dream big. In honor of the iconic cover's 40th anniversary this year, Johnson shared with WWD what it was like to receive the news.
"I was in my first New York apartment on the East Side — mattress on the floor, candles. I threw on my jeans and ran to the newsstand," Johnson said. "All these people were rushing to work trying to buy their papers so I had to wait. Of course, I didn’t have any money on me. I told the guy that it was me on the cover and he kind of rolled his eyes like, 'Oh lady please, if you were on the cover you would have enough money to buy the magazine,'" she laughed. "I had to go to the phone booth — a phone booth? The girls [in my office] are looking at me like, 'What's that?' — to call my mother collect in Buffalo. We were both screaming [with excitement], but I'm not sure my mother knew what I was talking about."
She has since gone on to have a successful modeling career that has expanded into a beauty empire of wigs and makeup for Black women. She has also become an activist so that other Black models have their chance to strut in the spotlight by taking on a cause that has also struck a chord with fellow beauties Naomi Campbell, Iman and Bethann Hardison: diversifying the fashion industry.
Johnson said that "sometimes we live in this very elitist bubble called the fashion industry" and that "we have become really oblivious to what's going on in the world. I like to think that is the reason."
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(Photos from left: Fernando Leon/Getty Images, Vogue Magazine/August 1974)