The woman who put the show in fashion shows

CHICAGO - They were bold, black and beautiful. Women of all sizes and shades, men too, who turned heads on runways in haute couture. This traveling fashion show was called the Ebony Fashion Fair - a breakthrough event dating back to the 1950s.

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports emerging stars like Aretha Franklin and Richard Roundtree were front and center. But the woman behind the scenes was the real star of this show. She was Eunice Johnson, wife of publisher John H. Johnson of Ebony and Jet Magazines.

"Mrs. Johnson broke all the barriers," former model Pat Cleveland said. "What a brave, brave woman."

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Johnson's fashion fairs raised money for charity at a time when African-Americans were fighting for civil rights.

"We were chased by the KKK," Cleveland said. "They threw rocks at us."

Johnson traveled to Europe's top designers to get her fashions. But many did not want African-Americans borrowing their clothes.

Audrey Smaltz, who was Johnson's right hand said, "I used to write checks for $50,000."

That caught their attention and respect. Daughter Linda Johnson Rice says her mom made designers like Imilio Pucci start thinking. Rice said Pucci needed black models, and her mother found him some.

Designer Oscar de la Renta says Johnson was the first to introduce music on runways - putting the show in fashion.

"They showed a group of unbelievably beautiful girls moving to music Paris," de la Renta said. "But in Paris, there had never been a show with music."

In 50 years Johnson collected more than 8,000 looks.

Inside the Fashionable Closet of Eunice Johnson

Her show traveled to more than 170 cities nationwide and raised $55 million for scholarships.

Johnson died last year and her fashion fairs have ended. But now as part of Black History month, her collection is traveling to Macy's department stores in 10 cities. It's a celebration of the legacy of a woman who saw style as power and power in style.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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