BY EMANI COLLINS
une 14, 1970 will always be a notable day in history for black, female Americans. Do you know why? At the age of 20, Miss Cheryl Adrienne Browne became the first African-American woman to compete in Miss America, after winning the title of Miss Iowa! As a black woman in America during the 70’s, one could only imagine the criticism that Miss Browne faced as she beat nineteen, white contestants. How did she do it? Well, Browne was an avid ballet dancer. She studied dance for years before entering in pageants! Her routine at the ‘1970 Miss Iowa Pageant’ blew the judges away, and they had no choice but to be fair in their final decision, regardless of her race.
Not only was Miss Browne a black woman, but she was also a native of Queens, New York. The fact that she won the title of Miss Iowa while being a non-native of the state was also a shocker. Talk about ‘black excellence!’ Cheryl Adrienne Browne broke down barriers that some never thought would change! After all, the well-known pageant rule, number seven, stated that “contestants must be of good health and of the white race.” This rule could be found in the Miss America rulebook at the time. She surely defied that one! Miss Cheryl Adrienne Browne is a hero for all black women who are interested in pageants. Beauty pageants have sometimes been negatively described in media, but Miss Brownemade history by being a part of such a contest. When you can start a trend and encourage another to attain their goals, there is no negative aspect about that!
Since Miss Browne’s (now Mrs. Hollingsworth) success, we have seen black women such as Vanessa Williams, Ericka Dunlap and Caressa Cameron win the title of Miss America. Although Cheryl Adrienne Browne did not take the crown at the Miss America 1971 competition, many debate that she was the originator of something great. Her success helped to pave the way for other black women who were interested in joining pageants, especially one as big as Miss America.
I sat down with 21-year-old, USA National Miss Alabama, Micah Cato, and asked her a few questions about her experience as a black woman in pageants. I also gained some insight on her thoughts about Miss Cheryl Adrienne Browne.
Q: How long have you been involved in pageants?
A: Well, I started competing in pageants during my senior year of high school. The first pageant that I competed in was Miss Georgia Teen United States, and I placed 2nd runner up. Ever since then, I began to compete in local pageants with the confidence of knowing that I have a lot to offer to my community.
Q: What made you want to be involved?
A: My mom put the idea of pageantry in my head. When she was young, she competed in pageants, and after she placed me in Cynthia Bailey’s pageant system, I began to understand some of the things that it stood for, such as style, service, scholarship and success. I thought to myself, “how can I become a positive image for girls my age or younger while displaying my platform for community service and love for fashion?” It may sound like a lot, but this is what drew me towards wanting to compete in different pageant systems.
Q: What is your favorite thing about being a part of pageants?
A: My favorite thing about pageants is the sisterhood. I have met different girls from various parts of Georgia, and even from significant parts of the country. There are so many different personalities that you might meet, but they all seem to typically be just like you!
Q: Is it sometimes tough being a black woman in pageants?
A: It is tough being a black woman in America, period. It can also be tough in pageants when you notice the old tradition of certain looks that pageantry might display, but I can attest that there is no one specific look anymore. It is 2017 and the more ethnicities that compete and actually win, we see that there is only one major mission and that is to serve! In my opinion, whether you are Caucasian, African-American, Latino, Caribbean, etc., we all have different attributions to beauty, but that is just secondary. To me, it is not about achieving big hair or dramatic makeup, but about natural beauty and what your plans are for your future endeavors!
Q: Have you ever faced any discrimination at your pageant events because of your race?
A: Definitely not! Every pageant system that I have competed in was all about sisterhood. I have never been in a situation where I have felt that my race put me at a disadvantage during my competitions.
Q: Do you believe that Cheryl Adrienne Browne, the first African-American woman to compete in Miss America, helped to pave the way for black women in pageants?
A: Oh, yes! Because Miss America is such a traditional pageant system, Ms. Browne broke that stereotype of judging pageants by race and color. She is one of many who has allowed me to even imagine myself competing amongst such elite women in this country. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be able to picture myself on stage with such confidence as I have now. Because of Miss Cheryl Browne, I know that race is not a determinant in competing in pageants. It is possible for me to be black and still be able to represent my country with style and grace!
Thank you, Miss Cheryl Browne, for your fearlessness!
Micah Cato, keep striving for success and servicing the community!
Don’t forget, ladies, you can do anything you put your mind to!