Miss America, Miss Teen USA and Miss USA Are All Black Women for the First Time!

Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019; Cheslie Kryst, 2019 Miss USA; and Kaliegh Garris, 2019 Miss Teen USA.

Dear Commons Community,

Black women wore the crowns of all three major pageants simultaneously for the first time.  Cheslie Kryst, 28, won the Miss USA contest, and Kaliegh Garris, 18, won Miss Teen USA. They joined Nia Franklin, 25, who was crowned as the 2019 Miss America in September.  Despite a long history of segregation and racism, America’s top pageants have broken racial barriers in recent decades. Vanessa Williams became the first black woman to win the Miss America title in 1984. Carole Gist won Miss USA in 1990. Janel Bishop won Miss Teen USA in 1991. Each competition has had multiple black winners since.

The three wins have become a powerful symbol of how much American views on beauty have evolved from a past marred by racism and gender stereotypes, even as black women leaders are still severely underrepresented in other fields, like corporate America or in Congress.

“It is important to little brown and black girls to see three strong figures, three strong women, African-American women that are doing so much great work,” Ms. Franklin said on Saturday. “People will argue that race doesn’t matter. But race does matter in America, because of the history, because of slavery.”

News of the pageant wins resonated with many on Saturday, drawing words of support from the actress Halle Berry and Senator Kamala Harris, who is vying for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination, among other influential figures.

“Nia, Cheslie, and Kaliegh: you are trailblazers, creating your own path on your own terms,” Ms. Harris said on Twitter.

The attention comes as the country increasingly rethinks long-held gender norms, spurred on by the #MeToo movement. Pageants have recently sought to put more emphasis on the offstage lives of the women and girls, highlighting their accomplishments and charity work, instead of only their appearances.

The Miss Universe Organization, which runs Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, began allowing transgender women to participate in 2012. Last year, the Miss America Organization announced it would end the swimsuit contest, among other changes.

Congratulations to the winners and to the pageants!


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