Growing up, Belva Davis knew that all women, regardless of race and skin tone were beautiful. Unfortunately, she came of age in the racially oppressive 50s and 60s and rarely saw brown girls like herself held up as examples of beauty.
In the article, “Fighting Racism, One Swimsuit at a Time,” Davis reflects on the lack of Black women in the Miss America pageant.
Belva Davis recalls:
“In the 1960s, nobody had to tell me that a dark-skinned girl was ineligible to be Miss America; everybody knew the crown was reserved for white girls only. The rare occasions when the pageant included African Americans had been demeaning, such as the 1923 competition in which blacks played the roles of slaves during a Court of Neptune musical extravaganza. By the 1930s, the exclusion was made explicit with Pageant Rule #7, which required that Miss America contestants ‘be of good health and of the white race.’”
Instead of being discouraged by the lack of women of color allowed to participate in the Miss America pageant, Davis decided to take matters into her own hands and start her own pageant for Black woman.
In 1961 Belva Davis put the call out for the “first major beauty contest for Negro girls” in California. Called, Miss Bronze California, the contest showcased unmarried African American women from all over the state.
Although many write beauty pageants off as merely frivolous events, Davis argues that her pageant—and others like it—showed little Black girls that they were valuable, beautiful, and worthy of the limelight.
“The Miss Bronze contest gave our young contestants the confidence and self-pride they needed to pursue the dreams they held of breaking through the crust of doubts about their own self-worth. Simple things such as good posture, a confident smile, the rewards of volunteering–all helped the contestants define and aspire to become their best selves.”
And becoming their best selves in the face of such racial adversity and animosity was nothing short of amazing.