She was the first African American model to be featured in a national poster campaign in the 1940s for Lucky Strike cigarettes. She also broke barriers by becoming the first black model in the New York buyers fashion show thus changing the face of the black woman model from servant to glamour girl.
Sara Lou graduated from Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1943 with a BA in Education. After graduation, she taught third grade in her native North Carolina. She continued her studies for a master’s degree at Columbia University in New York. While at Columbia, she lived in Harlem supporting herself by working as a model, actress, dancer and doing radio and television work where she was featured at events at the Savoy, hung out with the photographic team Morgan and Marvin Smith, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Jr., and many, many more stars. She appeared on the covers of over 25 magazines, including Ebony, Jet, Tan, Hue, and she became the first black model in the New York buyers fashion show.
In the late 1940’s she lived and husband comedian Milton ‘”Buddy” Bowser lived in an apartment in the Sugar Hill area of Harlem, before divorcing him years later. In the 1950’s she move into the upscale 9 Central Park North reports the NY Times.
After her divorce from Bowser, in 1959 she married John Carter. Carter worked as a barrister and in 1963 he was appointed as counsel of Queen Elisabeth II. Carter was then honored by the Queen who knighted him. Sara Lou Harris then became known as Lady Sara Lou. Now she was able to “help her own people” by now having this new platform.
I always wanted to make something of myself – to help my own people” said Sara Lou Harris in an interview for the New York Times in 1966.
Famously known for her elegance and charm, Lady Sara became the first African American châtelaine of the embassy when her husband John Carter of Guyana became ambassador of the United States, Canada and the United Nations. She suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and died on Friday, December 16, 2016 following the death of a granddaughter from cancer earlier in 2016.
Photo credit: 1) Sara Lou Harris ad. 2) Sara Lou Harris, one of the first black models to appear in national print advertisements, being photographed by Harlem twin brothers Morgan and Marvin Smith (late 1940’s).