Race, Social Justice

Miss USA just crowned its ninth black woman – now, meet the first eight

We're celebrating Deshauna Barber's crowning by going back, back, back in time.

On Sunday night, Army reservist Deshauna Barber was crowned Miss USA, representing the District of Columbia. Now, she’s become the first military woman to wear the crown. Barber’s already using the opportunity to speak out on her role and opinions regarding women in the military, and plans on using her new platform to draw attention to veteran’s issues.

What’s less widely-known, though, is that Barber is the ninth black woman to be crowned Miss USA in the last sixty-four years. And while nine is just too many for some people (SMH), we’re going to celebrate by going back, back, back in time to see the eight, glorious black women who won the Miss USA before Barber.

8. Nana Meriweather (2012)

nana meriweather
MissUniverse.com

Former Miss Maryland Nana (pronounced Nah-nah) was crowned as Miss USA in 2012. An all-around accomplished woman, Nana captained her college volleyball team (they made it to the Final Four and broke three NCAA records). She graduated college with a degree in political science, and she’s taken both the MCATS and the LSATS. She was born in South Africa and founded the Meriweather Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to ending poverty in rural African nations. She now works in New York City at Harper’s Bazaar and runs City Lately. Her Miss USA bio assures me that she’s  also a really nice person! If this sounds intimidating, then take comfort in knowing she once drove a car that had no air conditioning, no heat, no radio and a sagging roof that she had to staple.

Take comfort in knowing she once drove a car that had no air conditioning, no heat, no radio and a sagging roof that she had to staple. Click To Tweet

7. Crystle Stewart (2008)

MissUniverse.com
MissUniverse.com

Crystle Stewart competed four times in the Miss Texas pageant before she finally won the fifth time around, progressing to Miss USA and claiming the crown. Her crowning in 2008 marked the first time that two black women had been crowned consecutively. While she reigned as Miss USA, she participated in breast cancer charities, which became a passion of hers after she had a lump in her own breast diagnosed as benign. Back then, she was working the motivational speaking circuit. Now she’s an actress on Tyler Perry’s For Better or For Worse, and an active judge for this year’s Miss USA pageant. Again, making history for the pageant, Crystle took a tumble on stage, making it the second year in a row Miss USA fell onstage. The previous year’s Miss USA had also fallen, and she was…

Her crowning in 2008 marked the first time that two black women had been crowned consecutively. Click To Tweet

6. Rachel Smith (2007)

Examiner
Examiner

Rachel Smith was crowned Miss USA in 2007, and that same year tripped onstage during the evening gown competition at Miss Universe. It brought her some unfortunate Youtube fame, but look at that smile afterward! She’s currently a correspondent on Good Morning America and Nightline, and is a host on Amazon’s first live TV show, Style Code Live. According to her Twitter, she’s a fan of Empire and Ariana Grande.

It brought her some unfortunate Youtube fame, but look at that smile afterward! Click To Tweet

5. Shauntay Hinton (2002)

Dayton Daily News
Dayton Daily News

Like Deshauna Barber, Shauntay Hinton was crowned both Miss District of Columbia and Miss USA in 2002. During Hinton’s year, four of the five finalists were black (another first for the pageant!). A senior at Howard University when she was crowned, Hinton graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. She’s been working as a news anchor ever since. She’s joined us in making fun of Kanye West and not voting for Donald Trump, and even had small role in iCarly. Her Twitter bio reads, “I’m a mixture of popeyes chicken and the world’s finest champagne”. So, she’s basically perfect.

4. Lynnette Cole (2000)

Charm of the Carolines
Charm of the Carolines

Lynnette Cole was crowned Miss USA in 2000, also known as that year they had an awkward press challenge where the competitors answered questions from a group of “reporters”.  It’s a little uncomfortable to watch, but Cole was totally charming. At one point she had ambitions to model on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, but later said, “I could not stand to be in a swimsuit.” She also wanted to be a children’s advocacy attorney, but ended up foregoing law school in favor of working in Washington D.C with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption to reform adoption laws. She named her adoption papers her most treasured possession. Today, she works for PUR Cosmetics.

3. Chelsi Smith (1995) 

CTpost
CTpost

During the interview portion of the 1995 Miss USA pageant Chelsi Smith was asked what she’d tell then-First Lady Hillary Clinton to do to change her image. Smith tackled this “interesting” question with poise and replied, “I would tell her not to change her image. I believe very strongly in who I am, and I’ve seen 50 ladies tonight who believe very strongly in who they are…. [Clinton] wouldn’t have made it as far as she has if she hadn’t been herself.” Likely because of her ease with answering these kinds of questions without punching anyone in the face, Chelsi was also crowned Miss Congeniality. Since Miss USA, she’s been acting and judging other pageants. If you look for her on a Miss USA list, you actually won’t find her, as she vacated her title after winning Miss Universe. But she still counts! Chelsi is half-black, but identifies as biracial (and tells us why during the pageant!)

Chelsi was also crowned Miss Congeniality. Click To Tweet

2. Kenya Moore (2003) 

kenya miss usa
Bravo TV

Now best known for The Real Housewives of Atlanta and her twirling capabilities (she’s Gone With the Wind Fabulous), Kenya Moore was crowned Miss USA in 1993. As you can expect, her reality television career hasn’t always been the most flattering (she’s landed on several Most Hated Housewife lists, and my mom is definitely not a fan), but she’s taking it all in stride. After winning the crown, she had a number of small television  and film roles including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin and Waiting To Exhale. She’s produced a workout DVD, written two books and appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice last year. She’s launched her own production company and haircare line.

1. Carole Gist (1990) 

Blackpast
Blackpast

The first black Miss USA was crowned in 1990. She went into Miss USA with only two pageants under her belt and spent a mere two weekends receiving formal pageant training. At the same time, she was attending school and staying on top of her fitness routine (she’s now a personal trainer with her own fitness company). Gist said she could have probably worked a little harder, but winning Miss USA and making it to first runner up in Miss Universe certainly says a lot about her work ethic.  As the first in a still-growing line of black Miss USA’s, Gist took a lot of pride in her crowning. In an interview with Jet she said, “It’s all part of taking pride in [black] heritage and culture…we are a people destined for greatness. We have it in our blood.”

Winning Miss USA and making it to first runner up in Miss Universe certainly says a lot about her work ethic. Click To Tweet