All Articles Tagged "miss america pageant"
A black Miss America is an exception to the rule. Or is it?
For most of the pageant’s 90-year history, the infamous “rule number seven” of the Miss America rulebook applied — “contestants must be of good health and of the white race.” Lately, though, the pageant has made diversity a part of its mission. Eight African American women have served as titleholders between 1984 and 2010 — a 26-year period, giving the nation another black “queen of femininity” every three years on average. Those are decent odds.
But many African American women enter the contest not just for the crown; like many others, they get in it for the scholarship money.
“By the time I got into the pageant system, Vanessa [Williams] had won, so the first African American had broken the rhinestone feeling,” said Debbye Turner, the second black woman to win the national title in 1990. “But there was a lot of scholarship money to be had even if we weren’t crowned Miss America, so I was happy to rack up as much scholarship money as I possibly could and get as far as I possibly could. … When I heard about the Miss America program I jumped on it, because I saw it as a means to an end. I wanted to be a veterinarian and I wanted somebody to help me pay for it.”
Scholarships are the single biggest reason why women compete in the Miss America pageant. The organization is the world’s largest provider of women’s scholarships. Winners get upwards of $50,000 in scholarships, in addition to their winnings on the local and state levels. Last year, the Miss America organization and its state and local affiliates made $45 million in cash and scholarships available to 12,000 contestants, including the 53 finalists who competed for the national crown.
It took seven years and eleven tries in two states for Turner to win a state pageant and the national crown. She turned those years of losses into financial winnings, paying for college along the way.
But the former black titleholders are in a league of their own, even by Miss America standards. They excelled both as beauty queens and in their lives beyond the crown. One co-stars in a hit TV series. Another graduated from Harvard Law School and has argued before a sitting Supreme Court justice. Several are broadcast journalists, one on a major network. Each has used the power of the crown as a stepping stone to success — while representing the best of black womanhood.