The First Miss Black America pageant was created and produced on this day in 1968 as a means of protesting the lack of black women in the Miss America pageant.
The Miss Black America pageant was established in 1968 by Philadelphia entrepreneur J. Morris Anderson in response to his own daughters’ fantasies about winning the Miss America crown.
His two young daughters dreamed of becoming Miss America, he said, but didn’t understand the reality of the time. As at the time, The Miss America pageant required all women be “of good health and of the white race” until 1940, when rules changed to allow women of color to compete. Even so, by the late 1960s there had never been a black contestant. So at age 32, Anderson organized the first Miss Black America pageant with them in mind. The pageant was held at the same night, and in the same city, as the Miss America pageant.
The Miss Black America pageant was organized at the same night and city as the the Miss America pageant because the organizers hoped that when newsmen finished covering the Miss America pageant at the convention center, they might walk down to the Ritz Carlton afterward where the Miss Black America pageant was been held. Many did.
The first Miss Black America pageant was won by 19 year old Saundra Williams.
The pageant got underway at midnight, and at 2:45 a.m. Saundra Williams, a college student at Maryland State College, was crowned Miss Black America.
For talent, Williams performed a traditional African dance and, during the Question and Answer segment, she shocked the crowd by saying men and women should do equal housework because she thought “the male is getting awfully lazy.”
When asked about the significance of the new pageant, Williams said, “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.”
“There is a need to keep saying this over and over because for so long none of us believed it,” she said. “But now we’re finally coming around.”
After her big win, she told The New York Times: “With my title, I can show Black women that they too are beautiful, even though they have large noses and thick lips. There is a need to keep saying this over and over because for so long none of us believed it.” Williams had earned a trip to Puerto Rico, a modeling contract, and a trophy, that eventful night. Since then, however, Williams has largely remained out of the spotlight.
Sixteen years later, Vanessa Williams would be crowned Miss America. She was the first Black woman to win the honor. The Miss Black America pageant continues to this day.
Today For the first time ever, black women hold the titles for Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe and now Miss World.