Symbol of Racial Reconciliation, Pasadenan Joan Williams Dies at 86

Published : Friday, March 1, 2019 | 5:41 AM

Joan Williams, who did not leave Pasadena after being stripped of her 1958 “Miss Crown City” title but stayed and watched her hometown change with time has died, according to her son Robert “Chip” Williams.

Williams passed away on Feb. 20 in Pasadena, at the age of 86, enough time to be denied a rightful ride in the Rose Parade because of her race and decades later to see that wrong righted.

When officials discovered Williams was a light-complexioned African American, the float she was to ride was canceled. Her story finally publicized, Williams got her trip down Colorado Boulevard in the 2015 Rose Parade.

Local Assemblymember Chris Holden (D) rose in the California Capitol Feb 25, to move for adjournment in Williams’ honor, calling her, “a woman of courage and grit, a model of civility in the face of adversity.”

Assemblymember Holden’s motion to adjourn detailed the timeline.

“Ms. Williams,” he told his Assembly colleagues, “in 1958 had the distinction of being selected as the City of Pasadena’s, ‘Miss Crown City,’ an honor that was to include a trip down Colorado Boulevard atop the City of Pasadena’s float in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day, 1959.”

Williams was 26-years old at the time and, unbeknownst to anyone at the Municipal Light and Power Department, was the first black woman hired at City Hall.

“However,” Holden continued, “when her African American heritage was learned, suddenly there were no funds for a float that year, and she was denied the honor.”

Some 60 years later, Holden said, “the city apologized, and the Tournament invited her to ride in the 2015, 126th Rose Parade with the theme of ‘Inspiring Stories.’”

That is a significant abbreviation to a long existence. It does not mention that Williams was ostracized by her fellow workers after her racial identity became known, driving her to quit her job.

Stymied by injustice, Williams appears not to have wallowed in bitterness.

She worked for 32 years at Kaiser Permanente and had enough heart left to volunteer for Pasadena AIDS Service Center and Links Saturday School for Pasadena Children.

A Pasadena Tournament of Roses spokesperson said it was “honored to have Joan Williams participate in the 2015 Rose Parade…Ms. Williams rode on the theme banner float, ‘Inspiring Stories,’ as an ambassador of the City of Pasadena. The very nature of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ theme allowed us to reflect on and appreciate many people around us who elevate the human spirit by who they are what they have done, and what they continue to do. Our heartfelt thoughts and condolences go out to Ms. Williams’ family.”

Williams is survived by three children, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. A memorial is being planned.

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