The woman who broke a key color barrier at the prestigious Conde Nast publishing house has deep connections to the Washington area.

Keija Minor last week was named editor in chief at Brides magazine, becoming the first African American to ascend to the top spot at Conde Nast, which also owns the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ and Vogue.

Minor graduated from Howard University School of Law, and her parents live and work in the Washington area. Minor says she’s honored and thrilled by the distinction, but it’s business as usual from here on out.

“I’m going to continue focusing on giving readers a lot of ideas and inspiration,” Minor said. “The goal is to find the best in beauty, fashion and style to give our readers the best [wedding] day they can have.”

Minor’s appointment is a milestone for the magazine industry, which has had only a handful of nonwhite editors at mainstream titles throughout its history and none at all among the top-selling women’s books.

Keija Minor’s promotion is a milestone for the magazine industry, which has had only a handful of nonwhite editors at mainstream titles throughout its history. (Conde Nast)

In moving up from executive editor to editor in chief at Brides, Minor (her first name is pronounced “Kee-yah”) also earned the distinction of becoming the first African American to head a magazine in the 103-year history of Conde Nast.

While the ranks of newspapers and TV news operations have become more diverse over the past four decades, the magazine industry has lagged, said Richard Prince, who tracks media diversity issues in his blog, Journal-isms, for the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

A few mainstream magazines, he said, have had African American editors over the years, including Newsweek (formerly headed by Mark Whitaker, now a top executive at CNN), Men’s Fitness, Money, Teen People and Billboard. Oprah Winfrey founded her own magazine, known as O, but she doesn’t edit it.

“People just don’t consider them as seriously as newspapers and TV when they talk about diversity in the media,” Prince said. “Magazines, I guess, get a pass.”

Part of the reason, Prince said, is that magazines have long specialized and “segmented” readers, subdividing them by interest or race. Venerable titles such as Ebony, Jet and Essence focused on black readers, with their own cadre of black editors. Others have speculated that many African Americans can’t afford the lengthy unpaid internships that are a traditional way of breaking into general-interest magazines.

Minor has paid her own dues. After graduating from Howard Law in the District in 1999, she spent four years in corporate law but found that her heart was elsewhere. She said she took an 85 percent pay cut to land her first magazine gig, at now-defunct Travel Savvy, where she worked her way up to editor in chief. Other stops included Los Angeles Confidential, Gotham magazine and Uptown, an upscale magazine aimed at African Americans that she edited for three years. She joined Brides a year ago.

Minor grew up in Harvard, Mass., a tiny town (population 6,520) in the north-central part of the state whose best known residents might have been “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott and cookbook writer Fannie Farmer. She attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

But Minor, who declined to give her age (“Just say I’m over 35!”), also has strong Washington connections. Just as she was finishing at Howard, her parents, Hassan Minor and Linda Cummings Minor, moved to town (dad is head of strategic planning at Howard; mom heads research at the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems).

At Brides, she’ll have her hands full. The monthly, which is reverting to bimonthly next year, has been hammered by the recession and by the general decline of magazines in the digital era. Its circulation last year was 310,581, down 1.6 percent from 2010, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Over the past 10 years, its circulation has declined by nearly 26 percent.

Minor is vague about her specific plans for the magazine. But as a general matter, she said, her goal is to produce a magazine that “reflects all of our readers,” roughly 40 percent of whom are African American or self-identify as Latino.

Given that women of color have rarely appeared on Brides’ cover in its 78 years of existence, the most visible changes at the magazine could soon be on the outside, and not just on the masthead.