Before there was Kimora Lee Simmons, Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell, there was Naomi Sims.
Growing up in foster homes, towering over her classmates (except Phyllis Hyman) and living in a largely poor white neighborhood in Pittsburgh inspired Naomi Sims to strive to become “somebody really important”. Sims indeed became somebody really important.
Referred as the first black supermodel, Naomi Sims became such at a time when cultural perceptions of black Americans were being challenged by the civil rights movement and a renewed stress on racial pride.
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, died Saturday in Newark. She was 61.
She died of cancer, said her son, Bob Findlay.
Sims importance excelled beyond modeling. After five years, she retired from modeling and started a multimillion-dollar wig-making business that specialized in designs for black women. Ms. Sims also penned at least five books on beauty and modeling.
“Naomi was the first,” the designer Halston told The New York Times in 1974. “She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers.”
As a school girl growing up in Pittsburgh, Sims sang in the all city choir with the late Phyllis Hyman. Before her untimely death in 1995, Hyman expressed her admiration for Sims in the video below.
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