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Naomi Sims, pioneering black model, dies at 61

  • Story Highlights
  • Naomi Sims was one of first black supermodels
  • Sims was on notable cover of Ladies' Home Journal in 1968, many other magazines
  • Sims paved way for others such as Beverly Johnson, a friend says
By Alan Duke
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(CNN) -- Naomi Sims, one of the world's first black supermodels, has died at the age of 61 after a battle with breast cancer, according to her family.

Naomi Sims became an icon of the "Black is Beautiful" movement with her modeling.

Naomi Sims became an icon of the "Black is Beautiful" movement with her modeling.

Alex Erwiah, her brother-in-law, said Sims died Saturday in Newark, New Jersey.

Sims was a teenager from Oxford, Mississippi, when she broke fashion industry color barriers on New York runways in 1967.

She became an icon of the "Black is Beautiful" movement after she appeared on the cover of Ladies' Home Journal magazine in November 1968. She later graced the covers of Time, Cosmopolitan, McCall's, Life and many other magazines.

Audrey Smaltz was a fashion editor at Ebony magazine when she became Sims' friend.

"She demanded attention," Smaltz said. "She would walk into a room and people would come to a stop. People would go, 'Oh, my God, look at that person.' " Essence: Images of Naomi Sims

Smaltz said Sims' success as a model "started the whole whites accepting blacks," paving the way for others, including Beverly Johnson.

"They had so many fabulous black models in the '70s," Smaltz said. "It was our heyday, and Naomi made that way for the rest of the girls to come along."

Sims quit modeling in 1973, saying she was bored and disenchanted with the use of racial quotas in the fashion industry. "If they use you, it's because you're Black," she said in the biography posted on her personal Web site.

Sims married in 1973 and soon gave birth to a son, Robert.

She launched a successful wig collection targeted at African-American women in 1976, followed by a cosmetics line in 1986.

Sims wrote several books focused on beauty, health and career advice for African-American women.

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