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Actress Daphne Reid Broke Barriers Before Her Big Break

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Daphne Reid, smiling from the red carpet at the Emmy's in 1990.
Daphne Reid, smiling from the red carpet at the Emmy's in 1990.

A barrier-breaking actress from a popular 90's sitcom now has her own news show in Virginia.

Actress Daphne Maxwell Reid is perhaps best known as Will Smith's Aunt Viv from "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air." Years before black family sitcoms like "Fresh Prince" became mainstream, Reid found herself breaking racial barriers in pop culture.

In the 1960s, when she arrived at Chicago's Northwestern University, she wasn't prepared for what she found.

"I was walking into one of the most racially divided areas of the country," says Reid. "It was 5,000 students, and I was one of 36 black students who were on that campus."

Reid is that infuriating double-threat of smart and beautiful, so when her college roommates convinced her to run for homecoming queen, she, of course, won, becoming Northwestern's first black homecoming queen.

"They announced the court and the four girls walked out one by one and they were applauded and you could hear the applause, and then they announced the queen and when I walked out there was a hush that came over the audience," says Reid. "They could not believe it, and they didn't applaud. So I hiked up my skirts, walked off the stage and walked back to my dorm room."

Reid's victory made the cover of Jet magazine in an article about black queens at white schools. Not long after that, she broke another barrier.

"I was walking down the street and on the newsstand, there I was being the first black woman on Glamour magazine," says Reid.

Today she's host of a TV program on the campus of Virginia State University and touring with her book of photography called Doors. Reid maintains that for each of her accomplishments, she was simply in the right place, at the right time.

"I didn't know the importance of all the little things that were happening in my life," says Reid. "I didn't know that I was the first this and the first that and the only this and that, I was just living my life."

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