Vanessa Williams, center, with, from left, Sam Haskell III, executive chairman and CEO for Miss America, and Chris Harrison at the Miss America competition in Atlantic City in 2015. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images )

Sept. 17, 1983 On this day, a 20-year-old Vanessa Williams became the first black woman to be crowned Miss America. It was a milestone many decades in the making. Participation by minority women was not allowed until the 1950s, according to an Associated Press story that ran in The Washington Post the next day. And a black woman did not win a state pageant and enter the Miss America competition until Cheryl Browne of Iowa in 1970. Williams was forced to step down as Miss America in 1984 after Penthouse magazine said it would release unauthorized nude photos of her. But the scandal did not derail her career. As a singer she was nominated for 11 Grammys. She was also nominated for a Tony for her turn as the Witch in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” on Broadway. On TV she appeared in hits such as “Ugly Betty” — a role for which she was nominated for an Emmy three times. In 2015, Williams returned to the Miss America stage, where pageant chief executive Sam Haskell apologized to her “for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be.”

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