It’s been 32 years since Vanessa Williams made headlines as the first black woman to win Miss America—and the first woman to step down from the title. But it wasn’t until she judged last night’s Miss America Pageant that the beauty-queen-turned-entertainer received a much deserved apology for how her resignation was handled by the Miss America Organization.
“You have lived your life in grace and dignity, and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984 when you resigned,” said Miss America CEO Sam Haskell to Williams on the competition stage. “Though none of us currently in the organization were involved then, on behalf of today’s organization, I want to apologize to you and to your mother, Miss Helen Williams.”
The apology comes, of course, in response to the scandal that rose just weeks before the end of Williams’ reign in 1984, after Penthouse published unauthorized nude photos of her that were taken before the competition. Despite having been duped into taking the photos and not being involved in their publication, Williams was accused by the Miss America Organization of breaking a morals clause and was forced to relinquish her title. While Williams planned to sue Penthouse for the publication of the photos, she revealed in an episode of Master Class that she dropped the lawsuit after her lawyers indicated that she would likely have to recount the details of her childhood molestation during the trial. It was a series of events that should’ve ended her career, but her several Grammy, Emmy, and Tony nominations have proven not only her ability to bounce back in the face of adversity, but her undeniable talent that led to her victory in the first place.
Within the decades that have passed since Williams’ photo scandal, countless people have become victims of nude-photo leaks and, much like her, have been unjustifiably blamed for them. Haskell’s apology proves that there’s no excuse for the guilt-tripping and slut-shaming that Williams and others have endured in response to such scandals. As for the time that it took for her to receive the apology: Hey, better late than never.