In 1968, Black people were still dealing with the dynamics of Black pride and struggling to believe in ourselves, then the Miss Black America pageant came along to provide much needed hope and inspiration. Fifty years later, the struggle for self-pride and recognition of the beauty of Blackness continues and so does the Miss Black America pageant.
This year the world-class celebration of Black beauty will be in Kansas City, Aug. 11-18.
While we may no longer be amazed when an African American wins the title of Miss America, in 1968 there still had not been a single Black contestant in the nearly 50-year history of the pageant. In 1950, the rules were changed to allow Black contestants, but it took until 1970 for the pageant to have its first Black contestant. Those in the know insist the arrival of Miss Black America on the scene had something to do with it.
The pageant, founded by Philadelphia businessman J. Morris Anderson, was started in part as a protest to the lack of diversity in the Miss America Pageant.
The pageant was also a “protest among ourselves, not to buy into the negative propaganda about images, our skin, our features,” said Aleta Anderson, the pageant’s executive producer and daughter of pageant founder J. Morris Anderson.
A great match
As part of its protest beginnings, the first Miss Black America Pageant was held in Atlantic City, on the same night and across the street from the Miss America pageant. The next year the pageant moved to Madison Square Garden in New York City. While the pageant’s administrative base has remained in Philadelphia (the Anderson’s home base) during the past five decades, the pageant has moved around, often to cities with larger African-American populations, campuses of historically Black colleges and universities, and even to foreign countries.
When they decided to look for a special location to celebrate the pageant’s 50th anniversary, Kansas City, really wasn’t on the pageant organizers’ minds.
“We have a partnership with the National Black Chamber of Commerce and in conversation with the Missouri Black Chamber, they thought Kansas City would be an ideal place to provide a home away from home for the pageant, especially for the 50th anniversary,” said Aleta.
The city put together a committee to help attract the pageant to KC and when the Miss Black America team made their site visit, they were impressed.
“They rolled out the red carpet and welcomed us with open arms,” said Aleta. “Mayor pro-tem Scott Wagner said he really wanted to provide us things within his reach to make this a memorable pageant.”
In addition to Wagner, the group met with Mayor Sly James. Several key members of the host committee include: .and Kimberly Randolph with the Heartland Black Chamber.
Aleta and her team were surprised to learn the rich cultural history of Kansas City, and particularly connected with the history of the 18th and Vine District where most of the pageant’s activities will be held. The preliminary pageant on Thurs., Aug. 16, and the pageant finale on Sat., Aug. 18, will both be held in the historic Gem Theater. In addition, the Founder’s Welcome Reception and the final night VIP Reception will be held at the American Jazz Museum. Other event locations include a brunch and panel discussion and the Sisterhood Pitch-Off at Union Station and a Contestants Welcome Reception at UMKC.
This year’s pageant will feature 29 gorgeous contestants from across the country. Historically, the pageant had a feed-in systems from state pageants, but since the pageant’s rebirth in 2009, that structure has disappeared. There are still pageants in larger cities, but young ladies can apply directly to the pageant to compete as a “contestant-at-large.”
This year, there is not a Miss Kansas or a Miss Missouri in the pageant, but there is a Miss Kansas City, Sasha Washington.
“She’ll represent the whole region,” noted Aleta, who encouraged local and state residents to come out an cheer the local girl on.
To participate in the Miss Black America Pageant, contestants must be between ages 18 and 29 and have completed high school or their GED. Participants are judged on a two-minute talent presentation, with officials looking for originality, excellence in performance and popularity/promotability.
Yes, men, there is a swimsuit competition. Contestants can earn up to 50 points in the swimsuit competition and up to 30 points for their talent. The final area of competition is projection. Contestant are judged on their ability to listen to and answer a specific question, and on their articulation and projection to the audience. The maximum score for this area of the competition is 50 points.
If you’re interested in attending any of the Miss Black America events, tickets are available online via the Miss Black America website, www.missblackamerica2017.com. Tickets are on sale for the following events: The 50th Anniversary Miss Black America Pageant (finale) $50; the preliminary competition, $35, and the Miss Black America Brunch, $45.