Editor’s Note: Morristown’s Towanna Stone was the first black woman named Miss Tennessee USA in 1997. She finished second runner-up in the Miss USA pageant. Miss Tennessee and Miss Tennessee USA are separate pageants. Brianna Mason will compete in the Miss America pageant.
Brianna Mason smashed headlong through an 81-year-old barrier last weekend, becoming the first black woman ever crowned Miss Tennessee, and we as East Tennesseans could not be more proud.
Her historic accomplishment and perseverance — she competed four times for the crown, the latest as Miss Greene County — makes her an exemplary role model for girls and women in this state, especially those of color.
We hope Mason’s win and her year-long turn on the throne will help us redefine standards of beauty that, if the contests’ past 87 winners are an indication, have historically skewed toward white skin and straight hair.
When she visits grade schools across the state, one of Miss Tennessee’s outreach duties during her reign, young black girls will see that they, too, are beautiful and their contributions are heard and valued.
Until 1950, Mason and women like her could not have competed in the Miss America Pageant. The contest’s infamous and racist rule number seven plainly stated that “contestants must be of good health and of the white race.”
It took 20 years after the abolition of rule number seven for the Miss America Pageant to see its first black contestant, Cheryl Browne. Thirteen years later, Vanessa Williams took the crown as the first black Miss America in 1983.
The state contest’s first black winner, although it should have happened sooner, comes at a time when women of color are gaining unprecedented recognition by the pageant community.
Currently, the reigning Miss America, Nia Franklin; Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst; and Miss Teen USA, Kaliegh Garris, are all black women.
When Mason competes for the Miss America crown in September, we will be rooting for her to win.
We would love for her to show the rest of the nation the progress the state, especially we here in the east, has made and our continued commitment to breaking down the barriers holding back women of color.
Good luck, Brianna! Bring home the crown.