I guarantee you there is no one in the HBCU community who does not know the classy, beautiful, trailblazer named Ms. Diahann Carroll. If you didn’t know her from her days as Julia Baker in the television series Julia, then you know her from A Different World.
For the series Julia, which ran from 1968 to 1971, Ms. Carroll played the role of a Nurse for which she won many accolades. The recognition for this role was particularly impactful, as she was the first African American woman to star in her own television show who was not playing a maid or domestic worker. Diahann Carroll won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Series for that show in 1968.
Ms. Carroll’s IMDB report will show you that she performed in many, many television shows, movies and stage engagements with single appearances and serial guest appearances. In 1962 she was the first black woman to win a Tony Award for best actress for her Broadway role in the musical No Strings.
Diahann Carroll and A Different World
In the modern HBCU world though she is beloved as the mother of Whitley Gilbert on A Different World. She also received an Emmy nomination for that role as Marion Gilbert.
A Different World was a sitcom spun off from The Cosby Show, when Denise Huxtable, second daughter of the Huxtables, went off to then fictitious Hillman College. (Side note – there was a Hillman College in Mississippi which closed in 1942). This new Hillman College though was created to represent one of America’s institutions designated as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). This show was also ground-breaking with story lines covering every aspect of American black life from dorm life to the Rodney King riots.
Diahann Carroll’s role was that of the elite southern mother, who had raised her daughter Whitley as a southern belle destined to marry someone from an elite, monied family. The story of her daughter, instead marrying a Math nerd from a working class New York family, gave us Diahann Carroll at her finest. Her seven episodes on A Different World were some of our favorites.
Diahann Carroll and her Style
You can’t think about Diahann Carroll and not think about her style. Always beautiful, elegantly dressed and looking regal and beautiful, Ms. Carroll was undoubtedly a fashionista. She has a trademarked line of wigs to this day!
She was born Carol Diahann Johnson in 1935 and has died at 84 years old.