First Black Supermodel Naomi Sims Dead at 61

Published August 5, 2009

Naomi Sims, whose appearance as the first Black model on the cover of Ladies' Home Journal in November 1968 was a consummate moment of the Black is Beautiful movement, and who went on to design wigs and cosmetics for Black women under her name, died Saturday in Newark. She was 61, her family said, and lived in Newark.

She died of cancer, said her son, Bob Findlay.

Sims is sometimes referred to as the first Black supermodel.

Photos: Honoring Naomi Sims' Legacy and the Models That Followed In It

She often said childhood insecurities and a painful upbringing – living in foster homes, towering over her classmates and living in a largely poor White neighborhood in Pittsburgh – had inspired her to strive to become “somebody really important” at a time when cultural perceptions of Black Americans were being challenged by the civil rights movement and a renewed stress on racial pride.

Two images of Sims – one from the 1967 New York Times fashion magazine cover and the other from a 1969 issue of Life – are in the current Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “The Model as Muse.”

She also wrote books, including “All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman,” “How to Be a Top Model” and “All About Success for the Black Woman,” as well as an advice column for teenage girls in Right On! magazine.

In the 1980s, she expanded the Naomi Sims Collection to include a fragrance, beauty salons and cosmetics, but by the end of the decade she had become less involved with its daily operations. Many images of Sims from that period are still used to promote the products that bear her name.

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Written by Associated Press

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