The annual Miss Black America pageant is taking place this weekend in Kansas City, Missouri, celebrating fifty years since it first launched in 1968.
The legendary pageant, which will take place at the Gem Theatre in Kansas City, will mark 50 years since the inaugural event in Atlantic City hours after the Miss America pageant was done.
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Pageant founder J. Morris Anderson told the Des Moines Register that his pageant has seen a “rebirth” in recent years because certain racial issues still persist today.
“We are really concentrating on some of these problems that existed for black people in the 1960s and still exist today,” Anderson said. “We are aware that there’s an absolute need for this pageant to continue.“
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Anderson launched the pageant after his two young daughters shared their desire of becoming Miss America. Although the Miss America pageant had been desegrated since 1940, there had yet to be a black contestant by the late 1960s.
So Anderson organized the first Miss Black America just blocks away from the Miss America pageant. The first winner was Saundra Williams, who was just 19 years old when she crowned. The likes of Oprah Winfrey have gone on to compete in the competition in the years since.
“Miss America does not represent us because there has never been a black girl in the pageant,” Williams told The New York Times after her 1968 win. “With my title, I can show black women that they too are beautiful…”
Cheryl Browne later became the first Black woman to compete in the Miss America pageant in 1970. It would be another 13 years, with Vanessa Williams, before the first Black woman won the Miss America crown in 1983
This weekend’s pageant is also seen as a big win for Missouri after the NAACP placed a travel ban against the state in 2017, citing numerous incidents of police brutality.
Read more about the history of the pageant here.
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