The Other Protest

While the 1968 feminist protest of the Miss America Pageant took over the Atlantic City boardwalk, another protest was taking place around the corner.  As the feminists protested against the objectification of women in the Miss America Pageant, the first Black Miss America contest was held to protest the exclusion of women of color from the Miss America Pageant.  That these two events took place at the same time highlights the difficult position of black women at the intersection of the civil rights movement and the feminist movement.

From its start in 1921, the Miss America Pageant had not been kind to women of color.  The first appearance of black women on the Miss America Stage was in 1923 when they appeared as slaves in a musical number.[1]  In 1941, the first woman of color, a Native American named Milfauny Shunatona took part in the contest.  However, it would be another 30 years until another Native American participated.[2]  Through the 1960s pageant contestants were still required to fill out biological data sheets tracing their ancestry.  Miss America, it seemed, had to be white.

In response to this racial discrimination the first Black Miss America Contest was organized to coincide with the 1968 Miss America contest.  Contestants in the Black Miss America Pageant paraded down the boardwalk past the protesting feminists and the official pageant venue and continued to their own meeting place.[3]

Miss Black America Contest 1968 pbs.com

Perhaps due to the pressure from this protest and simultaneous feminist protest, in 1970 the first black woman, Lencola Sullivan, participated in the official Miss America Pageant.  Its hard to say which protest made a bigger impact, but both protests shed light on problems facing women, black and white, in the 1960s.

[1] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/missamerica/peopleevents/e_inclusion.html

[2]ibid.

[3] http://www.missblackamerica.com/beginning.html

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