Young Beverly Johnson, First Black 'Vogue' Cover Model, Then And Now

By | May 16, 2019

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Left: Portrait of American fashion model and actress Beverly Johnson, with braided hair, as she poses beside a mirror, New York, 1970s. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images). Right: Johnson's barrier-breaking 1974 Vogue cover. Source:

In 1974, future supermodel Beverly Johnson became Vogue's first black cover model -- something she'd been explicitly told would never happen. If Johnson's cover feat seems late, it was -- media desegregation and "firsts" had been happening for decades. Hattie McDaniel became the first black actress to win an Oscar for Gone With The Wind in 1940, and Ethel Waters became the first black actress to star in a sitcom in 1950 as the title character in Beulah. Fashion, though, remained stubbornly homogeneous. Today, Johnson is considered the catalyst that led to an explosion of black fashion models in the years and decades that followed, as both an inspiring example and a mentor. "Without Beverly Johnson," wrote Huffington Post's fashion editor, "there would be no Iman, Naomi Campbell or Tyra Banks."

Early Years And Success With 'Glamour'

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Left: A 19-year-old Beverly Johnson on the cover of Glamour's March 1971 issue. Right: Johnson photographed by Irving Penn for the interior of the February 1974 issue of Vogue. Sources: (Pinterest;

As a youth, the rangy beauty from Buffalo, New York swam competitively and aspired to practice law. At Northeastern University, where she studied criminal justice, she tried her hand at modeling while on summer break.

Immediately she found consistent work, gracing the cover of Glamour while setting records for the magazine’s circulation. Three short years later, she became the first black woman to earn the cover shot of Vogue. Attaining the cover of Vogue was a monumental accomplishment. Her first agent, fashion powerhouse Eileen Ford, told her bluntly, “It'll never happen.”