The opportunity to ride on a city-sponsored float at the annual Rose Parade has been almost 60 years in the making for 82-year-old Pasadena, Calif., native Joan Williams. The honor was originally denied her in 1958 when officials found out that she was black, the Pasadena Star-News reports.
Williams was chosen as Miss Crown City in 1957—a title given to a City Hall employee, who would then be honored by riding on a city-sponsored float during the iconic New Year’s Day celebration and would represent the city at events before the parade, the news site notes.
“I was young and it was exciting,” recalled Williams, who was 27 and had two young children at the time.
Her excitement, however, was cut short months later once it was discovered that Williams, while light-skinned, was black. All of a sudden the city did not have a float to include in the parade because too many entrants had already been accepted, the city claimed. All of this was decided at the last minute, even though the city had already paid for a portrait of Williams decked out in a gown, corsage and tiara.
To add insult to injury, the mayor later refused to take a picture with her at a city employees’ picnic when requested by a Jet photographer.
“It was one of the first times, as an adult, I began to grow up and realize what racism is,” Williams said. “Somehow I wasn’t the person they wanted on that float anymore just because of my heritage. … You can imagine the slap in the face that is.”
Now, 56 years later, Williams is getting some retribution: She is once again being given the opportunity to ride in the parade. However, according to the Star News, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard has acknowledged that officials have made no attempt at an apology. He did say that he contacted Williams and invited her to lunch after he heard about what happened to her.
“We didn’t dwell on what happened in the past,” he told the Star-News. “She’s a very nice person. I’m delighted to have come to know her and now consider her a friend.”
It was after their meeting that officials arranged for Williams to ride on the banner float, which will carry the parade’s theme, “Inspiring Stories,” at the top of the parade.
Williams said that she had already let the incident go at this point in her life but agreed to participate anyway after some encouragement from her children. “It doesn’t mean the same for me in 2015 as it would have in 1958,” she said.
However, she acknowledged, “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. … It wasn’t a big deal in my life for me to harbor that for the rest of my life.”