Woman Will Ride Float in 2015 Rose Parade Nearly 60 Years After She Was Denied Honor Because of Her African-American Heritage.

Joan Williams Rose Bowl Parade
(Image Via The Pasadena Star-News)

In 1957, Joan Williams, a 26 year-old mother from Pasadena, California was selected “Miss Crown City.” The title earned her a seat on the 1958 Rose Parade float, which was sponsored by the city. When city officials discovered Williams’ African-American heritage, she was denied the privilege of riding the float. She was told that suddenly the department could no longer afford the float. According to the Pasadena Star-News,

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.

Joan Williams Rose Bowl Parade Jet Magazine

The story of Joan Williams was covered in a January 1959 issue of Jet Magazine,

For 26-year-old Mrs. Joan R. Williams, first Negro ever crowned queen in the Tournament of Roses’ 12-year history, Pasadena, California’s biggest event was anything but a bowl of roses. Although picked last August from a field of 15 to reign over Pasadena and ride on the city’s official float New Year’s Day, the petite mother of two was in fact a queen without a domain.

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. Mayor Jeth Miller, who crowned her at the city employees annual picnic, neither participated with her in later civic events nor rode with her in the Tournament of Roses parade.

Nearly 60 years after her snub, Joan Williams will ride the float the Rose Parade, but she still hasn’t received an apology from the city, where racial tensions are high in the wake of the shooting of unarmed teenager Kendrec McDade.

Williams admits to mixed emotions, but recognizes the importance of riding the float,

“I want to honor the community and especially the African-American community who were so vocal about feeling the city needed to make an apology,” she said. “It wasn’t a big deal in my life for me to harbor that for the rest of my life.”