Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss America: Three Black Women Making History

When Miss North Carolina Cheslie Kryst was crowned as the 2019 Miss USA competition winner on Thursday, history was made. Three Black women are Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss America — for the first time.

Cheslie Kryst joins Miss America Nia Franklin, and recently crowned Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris, in representing the country. 

Kryst is a civil litigation attorney, and also does pro bono work to get reduced sentences for people who were imprisoned unjustly. Franklin is a classically trained opera singer. As Miss America, Franklin became the first woman to win the competition without having to wear a swimsuit

Kryst is good friends with Franklin, having become acquainted by spending years on the pageant circuit. She now serves as Franklin’s attorney.

Miss USA is also a fashion blogger. Her blog, White Collar Glam, gives women advice on dressing for the workplace.

Miss Teen USA, who founded the organization “We Are People 1st,” which assists people with disabilities, plans to attend Southern Connecticut State University to study nursing. Garris was also praised for wearing her natural hair during the competition.

“For the first time in a long time, the crown has been placed in natural hair,” Garris told ELLE.com. “It’s something that people don’t usually see on a regular basis or in these major pageant competitions. So, having that representation within the African-American community has really opened up a lot of people’s eyes and has allowed people to see that people of color can accomplish really amazing things.”

Mainstream American beauty pageants have a history of excluding Black women. Until 1940, the Miss America pageant mandated that its contestants “must be of good health and of the white race.”

In protest of the Miss America pageant, the Miss Black America pageant was created in 1968. Oprah Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee Beauty pageant in 1971.

Vanessa Williams eventually became the first Black woman crowned Miss America in 1983.

Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, age 28, said that her generation is all about inclusion and diversity.

“Mine is the first generation to have that forward-looking mindset that has inclusivity, diversity, strength and empowered women,” Kryst said after accepting her crown.

“I’m looking forward to continued progress in my generation.”

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