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Cameron Turner: TV Squanders Joan Williams’ Inspiring Story

Omission from Rose Parade telecasts misses chance for much-needed healing.

Published on Monday, January 5, 2015 | 5:05 pm
Joan Williams

You only get one chance to make a first impression. By omitting Joan Williams from their coverage of this year’s Rose Parade, television outlets gave the impression that righting the racial wrong done to Mrs. Williams nearly 60 years ago was unimportant. In doing so, they blew a beautiful opportunity to contribute to much-needed healing.

Joan Williams was supposed to represent the City of Pasadena as Miss Crown City in the 1959 Rose Parade. But she was deprived of that honor, (and other ceremonial duties) after city officials found out that she was black. (Due to her fair complexion, they assumed that she was white.) Last spring, attention from community groups, local newspapers and city council members led the City of Pasadena and the Tournament of Roses to invite Mrs. Williams to appear in the 2015 parade, riding on the lead float announcing the parade theme, Inspiring Stories.

The city issued an official letter of apology to Mrs. Williams and the story was carried by local and national media in the weeks leading up to. But when the Inspiring Stories float glided past the broadcast booths on New Year’s Day, TV cameras failed to zoom in on Mrs. Williams as she waved smiling from the side of the float. Commentators didn’t mention her name or summarize her story. Only one major TV outlet spotlighted Joan Williams — the Spanish language network Univision.

Why this happened is a mystery. It wasn’t as if broadcasters didn’t know about Mrs. Williams. In addition to the multiple newspaper, TV and online stories about her the Tournament of Roses included information about Mrs. Williams in the packets distributed to media covering the parade. And it wasn’t as if there was no time to mention Mrs. Williams on air. KTLA co-anchors Stephanie Edwards and Bob Eubanks seemed to be stalling as they joked about how the colorful drummers who followed the Inspiring Stories float had been rehearsing at three-thirty in the morning.

Joan Williams told the Pasadena Star News that a television station rep explained to her that she was not included in the Rose Parade telecast because producers decided to “go in a different direction.” That phrase, “a different direction,” is standard and deliberately vague Hollywood jargon often used to placate (or simply blow off) critics without providing incriminating details about a controversial decision. Without speculating about what “direction” certain unidentified producers may have decided to pursue, it is valid to say that one of the Rose Parade’s important “inspiring stories” was overlooked and an opportunity to build racial harmony was squandered.

Joan Williams’ story – which ultimately is a story of reconciliation and healing – could have helped soothe hearts and offer a modicum of hope in this troubled time when our nation is hurting, embittered and divided over the racial issues brought out by events including police killings of black men.

The City of Pasadena and the Tournament of Roses made a beautiful gesture of goodwill by including Joan Williams in the 2015 Rose Parade. Doing so underscored the City’s and the Tournament’s commitment to celebrating the wonderful diversity of Pasadena and our nation. And how marvelously appropriate it was that Joan Williams received her long-overdue recognition in a Rose Parade reigned over by a black Rose Queen, Madison Triplett, on the 30th anniversary of the Tournament’s first black Rose Queen, Kristina Smith. It’s a shame that the television outlets who share our Tournament of Roses with the nation and the world did not recognize that Joan Williams’ appearance in the Rose Parade was an opportunity to help bring us all a little closer together.

Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.


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