Profiles of African-American Success: Miss Black America
by Bayer Mack
In 1967, J. Morris Anderson, an African-American businessman from Philadelphia, was inspired to create Miss Black America after his daughters Leta and Kathy both said they wanted to be Miss America when they grew up.
Blacks, however, were excluded from the Miss America competition — even after a rule barring non-white contestants was abolished in 1950.
African-American beauty pageants of that era were normally held at historically-black universities and regional events.
Mr. Anderson’s idea was to stage a well-financed Miss Black America contest on the same night, at the same time and directly across the street from the predominately-white Miss America Pageant.
The widely-publicized inaugural pageant was held as a counter-event on August 17, 1968 at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlantic City, where Saundra Williams of Philadelphia was crowned the first Miss Black America.
The Miss Black America pageant quickly blossomed into a prestigious annual celebration of African-American women, lavishly showcasing the most beautiful and intelligent young black females, and talent, from around the country.
Miss Black America continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1970’s, reaching its zenith in September of 1977 when NBC broadcast the Billy Dee Williams-hosted pageant live in prime-time, one day before CBS’s Miss America telecast.