*Daphne Maxwell Reid showed off her acting chops in the 80s and 90s in television shows such as “Hill Street Blues,” “Snoops,” “Linc’s,” and in the short-lived but critically acclaimed “Frank’s Place.” In many of the projects, also including films, her husband Tim Reid, acted in them with her. He also directed.
However, MaxwellReid is probably best known as “Aunt Viv” from the popular 1990s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” still seen in heavy reruns today. While the show will go down in television history as one of the most popular television shows ever, as we continue to celebrate Black History Month, a few more items will be added about her accomplishments.
“All those things that I did were just because I had no fear,” Reid told the EUR in a recent interview. “I had no trepidation. There was nothing in the world that I couldn’t do. I was told by my mother and father growing up, ‘You can do anything you want to do. Do it with Integrity. Do it with passion.’”
Born and raised in New York, Reid, 69, received a scholarship to the renowned Northwestern University in Chicago. As a freshman, she was just one of 36 African American students in attendance while the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing.
In 1967, she became the university’s first African American Homecoming Queen. However, it was not because white students had an open mind, Reid said she won because, “There were four white girls from four different sororities that split the vote.”
The school’s administration was not happy and when presented with the rest of her court to wealthy supporters of the university, Reid added, “They announced everybody (in the court) and you heard applause. I walked out and it was dead silence. I just smiled, said ‘thank you,’ walked off the stage, and went back to my dorm. Oh, this is pissing me off.”
Adding fuel to the fire, Maxwell Reid was shut out of being featured in any Northwestern publications at the time but the black press saved the day during the homecoming game, “’Jet’ magazine and ‘Amsterdam News’ covered it. I was national news.” Later that year, “Jet” featured Reid on their cover honoring black homecoming queens at white universities.
The following year, on May 3, 1968, Reid was among 100 students who occupied the Bursar’s Office in the first major sit-in at Northwestern. The peaceful 3-day protest ended with university leaders meeting students’ demands for more services and support for black students including admissions, scholarships, housing, curriculum, and counseling.
“We were led by a group of young men who organized it so beautifully,” said Reid. “We had no details until we showed up. We were told where to be at a certain time that morning, we lined up and were told go and went to take over the office. We chained the door shut and those speaking for us negotiated with the university for our growing black community.”
She continued, “I was not at all concerned about losing my scholarship or being kicked out of school. I was fully backed by my parents. I called my mother (during the sit-in) and she said, ‘just let me know if you need bail money.’ I was just born of a crusading woman.”
In 1969, Reid made history again when she became the first black woman featured on the cover of the iconic “Glamour” magazine. The famed Eileen Ford Agency spotted Reid in a special “Seventeen” magazine featuring successful teen girls and signed her. Reid was a National Merit Scholar at the time. She was soon booking editorials for various magazines and in fact, the picture on the “Glamour” cover was the result of a regular photo shoot.
“I was in a red jacket, hair to the side with mascara and some lip gloss,” Reid remembered. “I sat on the window. The photographer shot me for about eight to 12 minutes. I left and went back to school and that October I walked by the newsstand and that was my face. I was surprised too.”
When you look at Daphne Maxwell Reid’s experiences as a young black woman in the 1960s, it is hard to believe that she is the same person that some in the black community blame for Janet Hubert’s departure from the ‘Fresh Prince.’ Many cite the color complex as the issue. Hubert, with the show from 1990 to 1993, is dark skinned. Reid, with the show from 1993 until it ended in 1996, is light-skinned.
Apparently, the real issue was that the show’s star Will Smith and Hubert simply did not get along. When asked if she is angry about how some in the black community still negate her for replacing Hubert, Reid takes it all in stride.
“Oh, I don’t give it any energy,” she said. “I had to audition against 200 other women to get that role and I got it. I was totally blessed and happy. It was like I had been there the whole time. I’ve never met her and no one ever spoke about her to me.”
In addition to acting, Reid is also a designer. Check out her Chinese inspired “wearable art” here. Also, look out for a documentary on the Northwestern sit-in, produced by the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association, slated to come out in May. For more details, click here.