In the first days of the revolution that changed the way people perceive racism, the October 1971 issue of Playboy sparked controversy featuring the first African-American woman on its cover.
Darine Stern was the first black woman to appear by herself on the cover of Playboy in the magazine's October 1971 issue. Her appearance followed Jean Bell who was featured on the magazine's January 1970 cover but with four other models.
Stern grew up in the South and West Sides of the city with her nine siblings. In high school, her beauty began to captivate those around her, but she never capitalized on her looks.
In the late 1960s, Darine began working at the Playboy Club in Chicago. She later held a job as a bank teller where she met a photographer who asked to take her photos.
Stern began her career in the late '60s as a 'Playboy Bunny' serving cocktails at the Playboy Club on Walton Street in the Gold Coast section of Chicago. There she acquired various admires including Bill Cosby and her soon-to-be-husband, David Ray.
Her image was taken behind a black background to contrast both her skin color and the afro wig she wore. The cover sold an estimated 6 million copies.
After marrying Ray, Stern settled into the role of a dentist's wife, stepmother to David's son, and urban social life. She had various jobs in advertising, hostessing, and bank telling. That changed when a photographer visiting her bank asked to take her photograph, images which subsequently came to the attention of the Playboy editorial team.
Following her cover on Playboy, Stern went on to become a high-profile model and she was represented by Ford Models, Nina Blanchard, Ellen Harth, and Shirley Hamilton Models of Chicago and New York, even doing some European runways. After a short time in Los Angeles, she returned to Chicago to work as a fashion director, image consultant, and costume designer. She created Darine Stern Agency to foster the careers of emerging models. She died on February 5 1994 due to complications of breast cancer.
The October 16, 2009 issue of 'Playboy' commemorated the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons with Marge Simpson as the cover girl. The cover pays homage to Darine's image, but at the time, most outlets failed to acknowledge the model or her legacy.
Darine Stern's story is a bittersweet reminder that we need to ensure Black women are not just footnotes in our cultural turning points.
The iconic magazine, Playboy founded by Hugh Hefner in 1953, will now go digital, meaning the Spring issue, due out this week, will be its last issue for 2020.