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Pageant Winners

Williams, Vanessa (1963- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Vanessa Lynn Williams was born in Tarrytown, New York on March 18, 1963. She is the daughter of Helen and the late Milton Williams who were music teachers. She has a younger brother, Christopher, who is also an actor.  Williams was the first African American woman to win the Miss America title on September 17, 1983. Interestingly, her parents put “Here she is: Miss America” on her birth announcement that they sent out to friends, twenty years earlier.

During her childhood, Williams took music lessons, learning to play the piano and French horn.  Singing, however, was her first love. After graduating from Horace Greeley High School in Tarrytown in 1981, she attended Syracuse University where she majored in theater arts. It was also at this time that Williams began to compete in a number of beauty pageants. In 1983, she won the Miss Greater Syracuse pageant, followed by the title of Miss New York and eventually the title of Miss America 1984.

Sources: 
Suzanne Freedman, Vanessa Williams (Philadelphia:  Chelsea House Press, 2000); Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin, There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Turner, Debbye (1965- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Debbye Turner (Bell), the third African American woman to win the Miss America crown, was born on September 19, 1965 in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is an American veterinarian, talk show host, and former beauty queen. She was Miss America 1990. Bell is the daughter of Frederick and the late Gussie Turner. Her father is a retired military lieutenant colonel and her late mother was a college counselor. Turner, who was raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas, was first runner up in the Miss Black Teenage World pageant in 1981. She participated in the Miss Arkansas state pageant three times placing first runner up twice.  Finally, she decided to try her luck at the Miss Missouri pageant. In 1989 she won the Miss Missouri title and competed in the September 1989 pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey where she won the Miss America crown.  
Sources: 
Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin, There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004); Karima Harris, “Miss America: From Vanessa Williams to Kimberly Aiken,” Ebony Magazine, January 1994; www.debbyeturner.com; Lynn Norment, “Back- to- Back Black Miss America’s,” Ebony, December 1990, 46-49; http://www.missamerica.org
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Dunlap, Ericka (1981- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Ericka Dunlap, Miss America, 2004,
Crowned by Erika Harold, Miss America,
2003
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ericka Dunlap, Miss America, 2004, is the seventh black woman to win the Miss America crown. She was born on December 29, 1981 in Orlando, Florida, the daughter of James and Fannie Dunlap. She is also the first black woman to win the Miss Florida title.

Dunlap was 21 years old when she won the title of Miss America. In contrast to two of her other fellow black titleholders, Vanessa Williams and Kimberly Aiken, who fell into pageants by happenstance, becoming Miss America was a goal that Dunlap had had since the age of six. The daughter of a roofing contractor and a nurse, she entered her first pageant in first grade.

An avid dancer, Dunlap became involved in clogging, ballet, and other forms of contemporary dance and joined a number of dance troupes in her youth. Oftentimes, she would find herself as the only African American student in these groups. As a result, Dunlap was the object of jokes from some blacks and resistance from whites who thought that such activities were the sole province of EuroAmericans.   
Sources: 
Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin, There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004); Melissa Harris and Kellie Brewington, "Miss America Begins Hectic Schedule with Permanent Grin," Orlando Sentinel, September 21, 2003; http://www.missamerica.org; www.erickadunlap.net
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Charles, Suzette (1963- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Suzette Charles (born Suzette De Gaetano), the second African American woman to hold the crown of Miss America, was born in Mays Landing, New Jersey on March 2, 1963. She is the daughter of Charles Gaetano, a businessman, and Suzette (Burroughs) Gaetano, a music teacher. Charles represented New Jersey in the September 1983 Miss America Pageant held in Atlantic City, New Jersey at the time. Charles performed very well during the pageant competition. She won her preliminary competition in the talent division and finished first runner up to Vanessa Williams, Miss New York, who became the first black Woman to win the Miss America title on September 17, 1983.

When Williams was forced to relinquish the crown due to a scandal involving nude photographs, on July 24, 1984, Charles became the second black woman to wear the Miss America crown and fulfilled her duties for the remaining seven weeks of William's reign. This was the shortest time period served by any Miss America.
Sources: 
Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin, There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004); Susan Chira, “To First Black Miss America, Victory is a Means to an End,” New York Times, September 19, 1983, F10, A1.; http://www.missamerica.org
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Harold, Erika (1980- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Erika Harold Being Crowned
Miss America, 2003, in Atlantic
City, New Jersey, September 2002.
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ericka Harold, Miss America 2003, was the sixth black woman to win the Miss America title,.  Harold was born on February 20, 1980 in Urbana, Illinois, the daughter of James Harold, a businessman and athletic director, and Fannie Harold, a college counselor and foster parent trainer. The product of a white father and African American and Native American mother, the multiracial Harold identifies as African American. She also describes herself as a politically conservative Christian.

Harold was 22 years old when she won the title of Miss America. She did not enter the pageant circuit until she was 18 years old. Soon after she was crowned, Harold adopted a dual platform “Preventing Youth Violence and Bullying" and “Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself.”  The latter topic encouraged sexual abstinence and refraining from engaging in drug and alcohol abuse.
Sources: 
Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin, There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004); Nikitta Foston, “Miss America Takes a Stand on Abstinence and Bullying,” Ebony, March 2003, p.165;  Lara Riscol, "Miss America’s Stealth Virility Campaign,” Salon.com, October 28, 2002; http://www.missamerica.org 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Aynaw, Yityish “Titi” (1992- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Yityish “Titi” Aynaw was crowned Miss Israel on February 27, 2013.  She made history when she became the first Miss Israel of African ancestry.  Born in Gondar Province, Ethiopia, Aynaw arrived in Israel in March 2003 along with her older brother and grandparents at the age of 12 after the death of her mother in 2002.  Her father died when she was two years old.

Aynaw lived in the hardscrabble immigrant town of Netanya.  Despite having no knowledge of spoken or written Hebrew, she was transported to a Hebrew boarding school in Haifa that catered to newly arrived immigrants.  Over time her competency in Hebrew steadily increased and she eventually became fluent in Yiddish as well.  Aynaw was a standout student in high school who distinguished herself from the outset.  She was student council president, excelled in track and field, and won first place in a national film competition that was loosely based on her own life experiences.

Sources: 
Daniel Estrin, “Israel’s Bold New Queen,” Tablet Magazine, March 3, 2013; Aaron Kalman, “Miss Israel is Ethiopian Immigrant,” The Times of Israel, February 28, 2013; Robert Tait, “Barack Obama To Dine with First Black Miss Israel,” Telegraph, March 22, 2013.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennesse State University

Taylor, Michelle (1992- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Michelle Taylor is a 22 year old African American woman who was crowned Miss Alaska in 2013. Taylor was the first black woman to hold that title. After winning the title of Miss Alaska, she went on to compete in the national contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Taylor attended the University of Alaska at Anchorage at the time of the pageant where she majored in hotel and restaurant management.  Her childhood ambition, however, was to be a gymnast.

Taylor’s exceptional academic ability was evident long before she began college. While in high school, she was awarded $11,000 for graduating in the top ten percentile of Alaskan high school students.  Because of her strong academic ability Taylor received financial aid and scholarship offers from a number of colleges and universities, but decided on the University of Alaska at Anchorage because of its generous scholarship offer as well as her proximity to family and friends.   
Sources: 
www.missamerica.org; Student Spotlight: Michelle Taylor, Green and Gold News, September 3, 2013.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Christie, Rachel (1988- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Rachel Sophia Adina Christie was crowned Miss England on July 20, 2009. She was the first women of African descent to hold the title.  Previously she was Miss London City 2009.  Christie’s reign as Miss England was brief; she was forced to relinquish her title in November 2009.   

Rachel Christie is biracial. Her mother Diana Christie is a white Irish Catholic. Her father, Afro-Briton Russel Christie, the brother of former British Olympic sprint champion Linford Christie, was stabbed to death when young Rachel was eight.  She has three siblings, James, Rhease, and Rebecca.
Sources: 
Frances Hardy, “I Won Miss England to Prove Being Black is Never an Excuse for Failure Says Linford Christie's Niece,” The (London) Daily Mail, July 25, 2009; Ruth Barnett, “Arrested Ms. England Hands Back The Crown,” Sky News, November 6, 2009; “Linford Christie's niece faces arrest after missing breathalyzer trial,” London Evening Standard, July 8, 2012.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Kerigo, Iman (1992- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Iman Kerigo is a 22 year old black woman who at the age of 18 was crowned Miss Norway in 2010. She was the first woman of African descent to hold the title. Kerigo and her family are refugees from Kenya. She arrived initially in Great Britain in 2000.  Her family’s experiences during their time in Great Britain, although far better that the personal and political repression which drove them from Kenya, nonetheless were challenging enough to make Kerigo a staunch advocate in Europe in raising awareness about the endemic problems of poverty, war, violence, and domestic abuse as they affected refugees as well as their impact on the larger population.

Kerigo, the second child in a family with three brothers, was born in 1992 in Kenya.  She and her mother struggled with her father who was abusive to both of them.  In 2000 her mother took advantage of an opportunity to leave for Great Britain as political refugees.   
Sources: 
http://mwakilishi.com/, September 30, 2010; Noah Gilman and Nicola Henry, “First Black Miss Norway Visits the United States,” Black News.com, October 27, 2011.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Odusoga, Lola (1977- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Eighteen-year-old Lola Odusoga was crowned Miss Finland in 1996 (Miss Suomi in Finnish). Her full maiden name is Iyabode Ololade (Lola) Remilekun Odusoga and she was born on June 30, 1977 in the coastal city of Åbo (Turku), Finland. Her father was born in Nigeria and her mother in Finland. The name “Ololade” means "The wealthy one has come" in Youruba. In her teens Lola was a competitive dancer.

At the same time she won the title of Miss Finland, Odusoga also won Miss Press and Favourite of the TV audience awards, showing that the decision taken by the jury judging the Miss Finland contest was popular. Following the Miss Finland title, Odusoga participated in the 1996 Miss Universe competition in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 17, where she was named second runner up. Odusoga was then crowned Miss Scandinavia in 1997. She is 174 cm tall and had a weight of 54 kg during her reign as Miss Finland.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Hansson, Malou Mercedes (1983- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Malou Hansson, a Miss Universe competitor in Puerto Rico in 2002, was crowned Miss Sweden earlier that year.  She had just turned 19 at the time. Miss Sweden was born Malou Mercedes Hansson on February 2, 1983, in Järfälla, a Stockholm suburb. Her mother is from Ghana and her father is a Swede.

Before winning the contest Hansson worked as a model while studying information technology in school. She won the regional Miss Uppland pageant and subsequently won the Miss Sweden pageant on February 25, 2002.  She went on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant held in Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 29, 2002, but did not qualify for the semi-finals.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Hoost, Petra (1976- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
At twenty years old, Petra Hoost, born January 16, 1976, in the city of Enkhuizen, Netherlands, became the first Afro-Dutch woman to win the Miss Netherlands pageant in 1996.  She went on to represent Netherlands at the Miss World pageant held in Bangalore, India, but didn't place. Hoost’s father is from Suriname, a former Dutch colony, and her mother is Dutch. Although the first visible minority woman to win a national beauty award in Netherlands, there appears to be no documented race related controversy as had plagued Miss Italy Denny Méndez the same year (1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

De la Cruz, Véronique (1974- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Beauty contest winner, designer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Véronique de la Cruz is best known as the first woman of African ancestry to be selected as Miss France.  De la Cruz was born in the small city of Saint-François on the French Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe on November 3, 1974.  De la Cruz enjoyed the beach as a child and spent much of her time there with her friends, a leisure pursuit which would eventually help determine her career path.  She graduated with honors from secondary school at the age of 17 and then enrolled in a college in France to study political science.  Whether she graduated is unknown.  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Silva, Tatiana (1985- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Tatiana Silva Braga Tavares is best known as the woman who was crowned Miss Belgium in 2005 and who represented Belgium in the Miss World competition in Sanya, China later that year.  Silva was born in the Brussels suburb of Uccle on February 5, 1985.   She was born into a middle class family.  Her mother is from Belgium and her father is Cape Verdean.  

Nineteen-year-old Silva was studying to be a personal assistant (secretary) and working as a shop attendant at the time of the contest.  Silva was crowned Miss Belgium because of her appearance, her talent in dance, and her knowledge of a number of languages including French (her native language), Dutch, English, Portuguese, and Cape Verdean.

Sources: 
Catherine Delvaux, “Stromae et Tatiana Silva ont rompu,” http://www.7sur7.be/7s7/fr/1527/People/aticle/detail/1622464/2013/04/26Stromae-et-Tatiana-Silva-ont-rompu.dhtml; Anaïs Lefebure, Miss France: l’histoire d’un mythe (Paris: JOL Press, 2014).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Emeritus Professor, University of Paris

Cruz Escalante, Ericka Yadira (1981- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ericka Yadira Cruz Escalante became the first Miss Mexico of African descent. With that victory she completed in the Miss Universe pageant in Roberto Clemente Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2002. Cruz was born in Mérida, Yucatán, México, on November 16, 1981 to parents Yadira Maria Escalante and Martin Cruz Alain Sena. She has two brothers, Martin and Glorevy. Currently, she is married with two children.

Cruz had an unusual background for a successful beauty contestant.  She was a widely recognized athlete before she was a beauty queen. She represented her home state of Yucatán in various sports competitions and has held the state long jump record since 1995.  In 1997 Cruz won a bronze medal in the Central American Games in San Salvador, El Salvador, also for the long jump, and for the 4x100 relay.
Sources: 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian
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