Black Pasadena Rose Parade Queen, Joan Williams.
The qualities that led Pasadena, Calif. city workers to choose Joan Williams as Miss Crown City and to ride on their float in the 1958 Rose Parade no longer mattered once they found out she was an African-American woman. As surprised as she was to have received the honor, she was doubly surprised when it was unceremoniously taken away.
But the ride she was denied in 1958 will be realized this year when she takes her rightful place, New Year’s Day, on the Pasadena city float by popular demand of local organizations and a rising tide of supporters as her story has become an international headline.
In the years since then, “Every now and then a reporter would call and ask for an interview, but after a while I felt I’d told that story enough. And even when I would talk to them, little would come of it,” Williams said.
But not this time. The front page of the Dec. 24 Pasadena Weekly, written by Justin Chapman, has traveled through the aid of social media to national and international news outlets.
It’s the same old story with different players, but the plot always includes a healthy dose of discrimination.
“I never told anybody I was White. I had pictures of my children on my desk. We had just moved to Pasadena and we were settling in,” Williams said. Beautiful letters of support had been submitted.
And all was well with her designation as Miss Crown City until a reporter came to her house and saw, “My very brown husband, and apparently went back and said, ‘Guess what?’”
When Jet magazine came to photograph her, the Mayor at that time refused to be in the photograph.
From that point, things changed in the workplace, from what had been wonderful working relationships to, “People refusing to speak to me, but I wasn’t going to let that make me leave because the income from that job was part of my family’s future plans,” she said.
As much as she forged ahead, she could not deny the pain it caused her.
“Yes I was humiliated and embarrassed. One minute I was representing them and the next I wasn’t. Nothing had changed in me,” Williams said. “The whole thing was the result of their assumptions, not of anything I’d done. I hadn’t pulled the wool over their eyes.”
And although she could very easily have let this current opportunity go by, she feels it can mean so much at this time in history.
“If I’d taken that ride in1958 it would have been just a ‘White girl on a float’ for the record,” she said jokingly, since they’d made that assumption. But in the light of Ferguson, the ongoing protests and the present racist atmosphere, it can mean so much more.
“Black lives do matter and this is another way of stating the case. This is not for me, but for the community and to demonstrate that I can be gracious and accept their apology,” Williams said.
While she’d much rather be making sure the black-eyes peas and greens are ready for the New Year’s Eve festivities, she’s making sure she has warm enough clothes for the unusually cold weather predicted for the parade. And she’s being interviewed non stop.
But she has no regrets and is enthusiastic about the young Black and Brown activists that populate Pasadena now, who demanded justice and an apology on her behalf.
“Inspiring Stories” is the theme for this year’s parade.
“When they told me I would be on the banner float, I though that was very apropos.”