Before Asya Branch could be named Miss USA 2020 or the record setting quintet Nia Franklin (Miss America 2019), Cheslie Kryst (Miss USA 2019), Kaliegh Garris (Miss Teen USA 2019) Zozibini Tunzi (Miss Universe 2019), and Toni-Ann Singh (Miss World 2019) could all earn the World’s top beauty pageant crowns in the same year – a few Black women broke down barriers to even make it possible.
The first Miss America pageant was held in 1921 but it took nearly 50 years before a Black woman even participated in the event. In the 1930s up until 1940, a rule was reportedly in place that read, “contestants must be of good health and of the white race” to qualify for the Miss America pageant.
Rules like this one, the lack of representation and access into the Miss America pageant sparked the development of the Miss Black America pageant. The first Miss Black America pageant occurred on August 17, 1968, in protest of Miss America. Although, Black organizations had been holding community-based pageants due to segregation laws in the United States prior to this event being established.
Despite these inclusive pageants, Black women still vied for the title of Miss America and thirty years after the discriminatory rule was removed from the pageant’s handbook, Cheryl Browne, of Iowa, became the first Black woman to be a contestant in the pageant in 1970.
It would take another 14 years before a Black woman would win the title. Vanessa Williams, of New York, accomplished this becoming the first Black Miss America in 1984.
The other famed US-focused pageant is Miss USA. It is similar to Miss America but the organizations are completely separate; however, they both have struggled with lack of diversity in its history.
The first Miss USA pageant took place in 1952. It wasn’t until 1990 when Carole Gist, representing Michigan, became the first Black woman to be crowned Miss USA. In 1993, Kenya Moore, also representing Michigan, became just the second Black Miss USA.
The winner of Miss USA goes on to compete in Miss Universe which was re-established in 1952 after previously running from 1926-1935. Janelle Commissiong, of Trinidad and Tobago, was crowned the first Black Miss Universe in 1977.
Miss USA also owns Miss Teen USA. The first pageant was held in 1983 and in 1991 Janel Bishop became the first black Miss Teen USA. This eight-year span is the smallest gap between a pageant’s inception and its first Black winner among the major pageants.
Miss World is the other major pageant. It was launched in 1951 but it wasn’t until 1970 that a Black woman was named Miss World. Grenada’s Jennifer Hosten earned this honor.
Here are other Black women who have since won titles after these women broke the color lines in the pageant world:
DEBBYE TURNER – MISS AMERICA 1990
KIMBERLY CLARICE AIKEN – MISS AMERICA 1994
CARESSA CAMERON – MISS AMERICA 2010
NIA FRANKLIN – MISS AMERICA 2019
MISS TEEN USA
MARISSA WHITLEY – MISS TEEN USA 2001
KAMIE CRAWFORD – MISS TEEN USA 2010
LOGAN WEST – MISS TEEN USA 2012
HAILEY COLBORN – MISS TEEN USA 2018
KALIEGH GARRIS – MISS TEEN USA 2019
SHAUNTAY HINTON – MISS USA 2002
RACHEL SMITH – MISS USA 2007
CRYSTLE STEWART – MISS USA 2008
NANA MERIWETHER – MISS USA 2012
DESHAUNA BARBER – MISS USA 2016
KÁRA MCCULLOUGH – MISS USA 2017
CHESLIE KRYST – MISS USA 2019
ASYA BRANCH – MISS USA 2020
CHELSI SMITH – MISS UNIVERSE 1995
WENDY FITZWILLIAM – MISS UNIVERSE 1998
MPULE KWELAGOBE – MISS UNIVERSE 1999
LEILA LOPES – MISS UNIVERSE 2011
ZOZIBINI TUNZI – MISS UNIVERSE 2019
TONI-ANN SINGH – MISS WORLD 2019