Madame Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell, the first mixed-race model in the United States was born in 1922 in Edgefield, South Carolina to a German and French father and a Native American and African American mother. (To be honest, part of the reason why she is so inspiring to me is because she is Creole like myself.) DeVore-Mitchell attended segregated schools until she was nine years old and briefly lived with her uncle in Winston-Salem until she moved to New York City to live with a great-aunt. While in New York, she attended the Vogue School of Modeling, which excluded minorities at the time. In the first video, she describes how they thought she was white, but sporting a really nice tan.
Not one to underestimate the value of eduacation, she completed her modeling certificate, graduated from Hunter College High School, and attended New York University, majoring in mathematics. Meanwhile, she married Harold Carter, a firefighter, with whom she had five children. She later married Vernon Mitchell in 1968 who, unfortunately, died four years later.
Because of her fair complexion, she was often able to pass as Norweighan and frequently modeled internationally because it was easier for women of various cultures to break into the business. When asked about choosing to model internationally, she states bluntly that “You get recognition quickly and in a lot of foreign countries they [people] are all different colors. In that time, the image of America was totally Anglo, blonde and blue eyes.”
At the age of 24 (24!), she created her own modeling agency, the Grace Del Marco Agency, with the sole purpose of introducing more diversity to the modeling world. Her mentees included women such as Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, and Susan Taylor — the long-time editor of Essence — as well as men such as Richard Roundtree and Raymond St. Jacques. Besides being a mentor for aspiring models, she was close friends with many prominent civil rights leaders including Martin Luther Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell.
Since she retired from modeling, she has focused on her agency along with establishing the first ethnic beauty contests in the United States, writing a fashion column for the Pittsburgh Courier (one of the country’s longest-running black newspapers), and creating a line for cosmetics for people of color.
Her agency was renamed Ophelia DeVore Associates and subsequently the Ophelia DeVore Organization and it still a pivotal force in the lives of people of all cultures today. At the end of the first video, she says, “Modeling was a vehicle I used to communicate a positive message of my people. I want everybody to be accepted, as human beings.”