Did you know…
In 1986, Halle Berry, Ohio’s candidate, failed to capture the crown of Miss USA Universe in Miami, Florida. For this reason, she did not participate in the 34th Miss Universe in Panama City. Today Halle is a world-famous actress.
Before a predominantly black audience at the Windhoek Country Club in Namibia ( Africa ), Augustine Masilela became South Africa’s first black delegate in the Miss Universe pageant ( 1995 ).
In July 1982 Ava Marilyn Burke, Miss Bahamas, became the third black to conquer the Miss Photogenic Award after Bermuda’s Margaret Hill ( 1971 ) and Trinidad Tobago’s Janelle Commissiong ( 1977 ). Surprisingly Miss Bahamas defeated Cinzia Fiordeponti ( Italy ) and Odette Scrooby ( South Africa ). USA
Michigan-born Carole Gist became the first black Miss United States ( it should not be confused with “Miss America Pageant” ) in 1990. She was also the first non-Texas to be elected Miss USA Universe since 1984. This girl came close to winning the Miss Universe title in Los Angeles, California — she had been defeated by Mona Grundt ( Norway ).
The Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the mid-1980s, Miss Zaire, Kayonga “Benita” Mureka Tete, almost won the global title in Miami, Florida. Her exotic and natural beauty impressed international judges, including Victor Bannerjee ( actor ) and Susan George ( actress ). During her stay in Florida, she was one of the most popular entries. In addition to Miss Zaire 1985, the African nation has sent only three delegates to Miss Universe : Ombayi Mukuta ( Miss Congeniality 1972 ), Lokange Lwali ( 1984 ) and Aimee Likobe Dobala ( semifinalist, 1986 ). Since 1997 Zaire changed its name to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On November 14, 2001, Vanessa Mendoza was the first black to win the Miss Colombia contest, one of the most popular events in the South American nation since 1935.Like their countrywomen Aura Maria Mojica ( 1977 ), Patricia López ( 1987 ) and Claudia Elena Vasquez ( 1997 ), she was one of the heavy favorites to win the Miss Universe crown, along with Russian Okasana Fyodorova and American Shauntay Renae Hinton.Unfortunately Vanessa, who admires Nelson Mandela, did not make even the semi-finals in San Juan de Puerto Rico in 2002.
In 1986, Deisy Nunes de Souza, Miss Brazil, became the first African-Brazilian woman to make the semi-finals in the Miss Universe Pageant in Panama City’s Atlapa Convention Center.
In 1968, Anne Marie Braafheid, Miss Curacao, made history when she was first runner-up at the Miss Universe.
America’s contestant Chelsy Smith, who was Miss Texas , became the second black woman to be named Miss Universe in 1995 in Windhoek, the capital city of the African country of Namibia. She was also the first black semi-finalist since 1993.
After a failed try for the 1997 Miss World title in Mahe, Seychelles ( Africa ), Mpule Kwelagobe, Miss Botswana, became Miss Universe in Chaguaramas ( Trinidad & Tobago ) in 1999. An international panel headed by former ambassador Charles Gargano chose Mpule — which means in Tswana “one who comes with the rain” — to be the last Miss Universe of the 20th century. Miss Universe 1999 once said, ” Today women use their beauty and brains to stand up for what they believe in, and pageants are platforms to spearhead and promote issues of concern”. She is one of Botswana’s five national idols.
Venezuela’s Carolina Indriago, who had been seen as the first black South American with real chance to capture a global title, finished fourth at the Miss Universe in 1999.
Trinidad & Tobago
Miss Trinidad Tobago, Janelle “Penny” Commissiong, lived up to her reputation as one of the most beautiful women of the Caribbean by winning the Miss Universe crown in 1977.She became the second woman to hold the MU and Miss Photogenic titles at the same time. During her reign, Janelle was seen as someone who could improve the status of race relations in the world.
Sarita Acosta became the first and only Miss Belize to make the semi-finals in the Miss Universe ( 1979 ). In the 70s, only five other black delegates did it : Cherrie Raphaelia Creque ( American Virgin Island, 1971 ), Maureen Ava Veira ( Aruba, 1974 ), Gerthie David ( Haiti, 1975 ), Janelle Commissiong ( Trinidad Tobago, 1977 ) and Gina Swainson ( Bermuda ).
Lesotho’s delegate Joan Libuseng Khoali was one of 12 favorites to win the universal title in Acapulco ( Mexico ) in 1978. She came from Lesotho, a tiny kingdom on the African continent.
In the early 60s, Evelyn Miot, Miss Haiti, became the first black woman to make the second round in Miss Universe history.
Miss Bermuda, Margaret Hill, became the first black delegate to win the coveted Miss Photogenic trophy in 1970.
Tanzania, an African nation known for its mountains and wildlife, had a strong contestant in Miss Universe 2007.Her name: Flaviana Matata. “I am very glad to represent my country Tanzania and, above all, to make it to the top ten finals. I finished sixth out of the 77 contestants from across the world”, she said during an interview in Mexico City. She is the only MU semi-finalist from Tanzania.
Dominican-born Italian Denny Mendez came to international attention in 1996 when she was the first black girl to capture the Miss Italy, one of the world’s oldest beauty contests. She was chosen Miss Italy in a disputed and controversial election. In 1997 she placed fifth in the Miss Universe.
Gloria Karamanites was the only black candidate who qualified for the second round in the global contest in Seoul ( South Korea ) in 1980. In this decade, only five other black delegates did it: Benita Mureka ( Zaire, 1985 ), Deysi Nunes de Souza ( Brazil, 1986 ), Aimee Likobe Dobola ( Zaire, 1986 ), Carmelita Louise Ariza ( Turks & Caicos, 1987 ) and Sandra Foster ( Jamaica, 1989 ).
Trinidad and Tobago
Wendy Rachelle Fitzwilliam, a native from Trinidad Tobago, won the 46th Miss Universe title in Honolulu, Hawaii. Wendy once said: “My role model is Audrey Hepburn. Her extraordinary beauty and grace was reflected in all facets of her life. Ms. Hepburn was a good mother, always a lady, a pioneer in her support of UNICEF, and, of course, superb actress”.
African-born French Sonia Rolland, who escaped from the war in Rwanda, was crowned Miss France in 2000. This girl, now an actress, was one of the first black women to win the European contest. Miss France 2000 qualified for the second round in the 48th Miss Universe Pageant in Nicosia ( Cyprus ).