What Does It Mean to Be Crowned ‘Miss Juneteenth’?

In the month of June, as celebrations to commemorate the Juneteenth vacation start, dozens of Black women and girls throughout the nation can be competing for a singular title: Miss Juneteenth.

Miss Juneteenth pageants have been held domestically for many years however they’ve been rising in visibility as consciousness of the vacation has elevated. The first National Miss Juneteenth Pageant was held in 2020 in Memphis, with Saniya Gay, a earlier Miss Juneteenth winner in Delaware, claiming the title.

Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, is rooted in emancipation for the enslaved, so it entails each the celebration of pleasure and the commemoration of ache. June 19 marks the anniversary of the day in 1865 when information of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas — practically two years after the Proclamation had been issued. African Americans, starting in Texas, have celebrated the vacation since 1866.

In June 2020, following widespread nationwide protests towards racial injustice, a number of firms embraced Juneteenth. “Both Twitter and Square are making #Juneteenth (June 19th) a company holiday in the U.S., forevermore,” declared Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief govt, on Twitter. “A day for celebration, education, and connection.” Nike, Citigroup, Target and Lyft additionally acknowledged the day formally. Legislative efforts to make Juneteenth a federal vacation proceed.

In communities the place the arrival of the information of emancipation has lengthy been celebrated, Juneteenth is marked with gatherings over prayer, music, meals and dancing — and, in lots of locations, pageants aiming to crown a Miss (and Mr.) Juneteenth, with completely different contests for youngsters, teenagers and adults.

Many components of a Miss Juneteenth pageant can be acquainted to pageant watchers: Winners are adorned with a sash and crown; given bouquets of flowers; and photographed and showered with consideration. They sometimes obtain a scholarship, usually to a traditionally Black faculty or college. The competitions usually embrace conventional elements like strolling in a night robe, exhibiting a expertise and answering topical questions.

Yet for younger Black girls who earn the title, the honour is related to a vacation that marks the emancipation of their ancestors. More than merely a crown, Miss Juneteenth holds deep which means to these girls, their households and their communities.

Kennedé Wallace, 16, gained the 2019 Miss Juneteenth pageant for Austin, Texas. Because of the pandemic, she’s held her crown and title for a further yr, a duty she mentioned she’s carried with delight, particularly in the course of the protests and the conversations about police brutality towards African Americans that befell in the summertime of 2020.

“It’s a reminder that I’m proudly Black and I’m happy about it and I’m strong,” she mentioned. “A reminder that Black is beautiful. To be ourselves with the hate or without the hate that we experience. A reminder that we’re free. We’re here with a purpose.”

The rise of Miss Juneteenth pageants has come at a moment when Black contestants have met with remarkable success in more high-profile pageants. In 2019, the winners of the five most prominent pageants — Miss World, Miss Teen USA, Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe — were all Black. In some corners, their victories were seen as a watershed moment for the pageant world.

Still, Miss Juneteenth pageants offer a different experience for their winners.

“Even when we have this banner year and these wonderful women winning these pageants, it’s still in relationship to a presumptive default culture of whiteness,” said Treva B. Lindsey, a professor of women’s studies at Ohio State University, where she focuses on African-American women’s history and culture.

Proponents of Miss Juneteenth pageants point out that contestants often represent a wider range of sizes than are typically found in beauty pageants and they are welcomed, even encouraged, to participate with natural, unstraightened hairstyles.

“What makes it different is that it is an opportunity for young women of color to be unapologetically themselves,” said Andrea Sledge, co-chair of the Juneteenth festival in Fort Worth. “They don’t have to fit into a mold.”

The pageants, Ms. Sledge explained, focus on all facets of Black womanhood, from style to cultural contributions in music and dance. “Our young ladies are taught that in any room that they walk in, they belong there, regardless of who else is there.”

Before participating in the 1981-1982 Miss Juneteenth pageant in Texas, Vickie Heath-Glosson,64, didn’t know much about Juneteenth beyond the basics. She grew up in Texas, but her history courses in school, she said, had focused on the Emancipation Proclamation as the final word after Abraham Lincoln signed it in 1863. By participating in the pageant, she gained a deeper understanding of the holiday.

Ms. Glosson, who won the pageant in 1982, said she valued having a space designated for celebrating Black women. Although there was competition, the pageant provided a sense of community and sisterhood.

“It was just amazing,” she said. “It just felt like there was kind of a missing link about things that I didn’t know about.”

She credits the pageant with boosting her analytical and public speaking skills and giving her a confidence that carried her into a 39-year teaching career. Before retiring, she taught her own students about Juneteenth.

“Getting involved with that meeting, all the wonderful women that I participated with, was just so amazing,” Ms. Glosson said. “It was an opportunity to know that I’d be able to get more involved with the community.”

In the Louisiana town of Donaldsonville, the current Juneteenth celebration was introduced in 1996 by the mayor at the time, Bernard Joseph Francis Sr., and his wife, Janet Ganes Francis. In 2016, the couple’s daughter, Tamiko Francis Garrison, with the help of others, started a Miss Juneteenth pageant.

“When I think of celebrating Juneteenth and the pageant, I think of it this way: The path of our ancestors and their sacrifices have gotten us to the point where we can do this freely,” Ms. Francis Garrison said. “We remember, we mourn, but we celebrate the victories.”

In the film, contestants in the pageant are a range of sizes and — unlike in traditional pageants — many compete with their natural, unstraightened hair. When Kai takes the competition stage, she recites Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman,” a mainstay at Miss Juneteenth pageants. Even as Turquoise and Kai contend with life’s challenges — Turquoise works multiple jobs, struggling to make ends meet — they experience joy. There is pain in Turquoise’s life but that pain, much like the pain in her ancestors’ lives, isn’t all that she knows.

For proponents of the pageants, that combination of struggle and joy is embodied in Juneteenth — and in the title of Miss Juneteenth.

“We find spaces and create spaces for joy and celebration and beauty and community amidst a world that has been terrorizing, that has been harmful, that has been violent,” Ms. Lindsey said. “We’re not trying to whitewash that history. We’re attempting to remind ourselves and those in our communities that even in those circumstances, we were finding ways to create joy and beauty in the world we inhabit.”

For Ms. Wallace, the reigning Miss Juneteenth in Austin, it took three tries to earn her crown. She first competed in the pageant in 2017, and she lost to her cousin.

The following year she lost to a different cousin.

The third year she entered, she won.

“We always tell each other: Don’t let your crown fall,” she said of her fellow Miss Juneteenths. “You are celebrating your day of freedom, celebrating when you and your people got free. So hold your crown high, even when life is hard.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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