Miss Black America: the pageant that changed the history of black beauty

Farida Dawkins January 16, 2018
Saundra Williams, 19, center, of Philadelphia, Pa., was crowned Miss Black America 1969 at ceremonies in Atlantic City, Sept. 8, 1968 -- Photo: WNYC

The Miss Black America pageant was born in 1967 out of the necessity to showcase Black beauty. Businessman J. Morris Anderson was inspired to formulate a counter pageant when his daughters expressed their desire to be part of the Miss America beauty pageant which excluded African-Americans from participating.

So, on August 17, 1968, at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlantic City, NJ, with the assistance of the then Tri-State director of the NAACP Phillip H. Savage, the initial Miss Black America commenced and Saundra Williams was crowned the first ever Miss Black America. Williams remarked: “Miss America does not represent us because there has never been a black girl in the pageant. With my title, I can show black women that they too are beautiful.”

In September of 1977, the Miss Black America pageant was televised one night before Miss America. Savage was quoted as saying: “We want to be in Atlantic City at the same time that the hypocritical Miss America contest is being held.”

After 1996, there was a 14-year hiatus and 2010 marked the premiere of the rebranded pageant which included a teen version. The Miss Black America continues to display the excellence of Black women that often go unnoticed.

Even though the Miss America franchise integrated African-Americans in 1971, Miss Black America continues. When the officials of Miss Black America were asked by a black reporter why the competition sustained despite the inclusion of Black women in Miss America, a pageant representative replied: “You wouldn’t suggest closing your black newspaper simply because a major white daily published a story about a black would you?”

Enough said.

Listen to Miss Black America 2017 Brittany Lewis as she explains why she joined the pageant.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: January 16, 2018


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