Women’s History: Donyale Luna

The First African American Supermodel

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Sarai Thompson

Feature Writer at RYSE
What do you get when you mix youth, curiosity, and enthusiasm into one? You get Sarai Thompson; alumni of Georgia State University, and a first generation Jamaican American using Atlanta as her foundation for success.
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Today, the world is graced with beautiful supermodels of all shapes, colors, and sizes. However, who was the first to pave the way of them? As we know, the world’s view of beauty was not as versatile as it is today. One must defy a norm in order to stir the idea of change. Who was the person to break barriers for the modeling community?

… A Black teenage girl from Detroit, Michigan.

 

Donyale Luna as a young girl. Photo courtesy of Delectant.com.

Donyale Luna as a young girl.
Photo courtesy of Delectant.com.

Donyale Luna, born Peggy Ann Freeman, is arguably known as the first Black supermodel.

Luna was a teenager living in the Civil Rights era when she began her modeling career. The 5’11” beauty was discovered in the streets of Detroit by photographer David McCrabe in 1964. In awe of her beauty, he invited her to New York and introduced her to Harper’s Bazaar. The magazine publication found Luna quite captivating and had a sketch of her placed on the cover of their January 1965 issue.

Donyale Luna on the cover of Harper Bazaar. Jan. 1965

Donyale Luna on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Jan. 1965

Luna and Harper’s Bazaar received a lot negative feedback for the cover, but; Luna’s modeling career continued to rise. She also iconically became the first Black woman on the cover of British Vogue. In 1966 Luna took her most memorable fashion photos of the time period.

Donyale Luna's Iconic Twen Photo

Donyale Luna’s Iconic Twen Photo

Photographer Charlotte March took a photo of Luna resembling the likeness of a blooming flower. This aesthetically pleasing photo was placed into the German fashion publication Twen and is still a coveted photo today.

Tragically, Luna’s life ended terribly short from a drug overdose. She was 35 years old.

Despite Luna’s tragic end, we cannot deny that Luna was a shooting star in the modeling industry that broke down color barriers.


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