For the first time in history, three of the most prestigious beauty pageants in the United States were dominated by Black women who reign in the same year. Cheslie Kryst’s most recent win as 2019 Miss USA completed the trifecta with this year’s crowned Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris and Miss America Nia Franklin.
After being crowned Miss USA, Kryst, who is 28-years old from North Carolina, will represent the country to the upcoming Miss Universe competition. Kryst was joined by an ethnically diverse set of finalists as well. The first runner-up, New Mexico’s Alejandra Gonzalez, is of Mexican descent, and the second runner-up, Oklahoma’s Triana Browne, has Native American heritage and an African American mother.
“Mine is the first generation to have that forward-looking mindset that has inclusivity, diversity, strength and empowered women,” Kryst said during her crowning speech. “I’m looking forward to continued progress in my generation.”
Looking back, the Miss America competition, which started in the early 1920s, started accepting women of color in 1940s but it was only in 1970 that a Black woman, Cheryl Browne, first participated. Vanessa Williams was the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America in 1983 but she was forced to resign when nude photos of her emerged before her reign ended.
Miss USA started in 1952 and Carike Anne-Marie Gist became the first Black winner in 1990. Miss Teen USA began in 1983 and Janel Bishop was named its first Black winner in 1991.
In the most recent years, the three beauty pageants have made significant changes to be in line with calls for inclusivity, diversity, and empowerment. The Miss Universe Organization, which oversees Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, began allowing transgender women to participate in 2012 and Miss America organization had not included the swimsuit segment starting last year.
During the Miss USA pageant, Kryst also expressed her opinion about the #MeToo movement, stating that the outcry over sexual harassment has not gone too far. “#MeToo and #TimesUp are about making sure that we foster safe and inclusive workplaces in our country,” said Kryst, who is a civil litigation attorney that provides free legal assistance to prisoners who have been unjustly sentenced.
Moreover, the three titleholders including Kaliegh Garris, who was crowned Miss Teen USA in April, and Nia Franklin, who was named Miss America in September, were hailed for their win. Democratic senator and 2020 presidential contender Kamala Harris said in an Instagram post, “For the first time in history, Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA are all Black women. What a tremendous moment for these young, successful women making their own path, on their own terms. Truly amazing to see.”