That’s when the the first black Miss Tennessee was crowned – breaking an 81-year-old barrier.
Before taking the crown at the University of Tennessee pageant on her fourth try at the state title, Brianna Mason, a Nashville native, won the title of Miss Greene County.
Mason will soon be visiting Grace Temple Church in Johnson City for an autograph session and motivational speech about her struggle for the crown. The free public event will be held Aug. 24 at noon.
Deidre Hagler, head of the church’s youth “expression team,” said Mason’s speech will teach the young women of the congregation that racial barriers — and barriers of all types — can be overcome.
“I’m hoping they take away that, no matter how different I look or how I was raised, if I put my mind to something, I can do what I want,” she said.
Until 1950, women of color were barred from competing in the Miss America Pageant. The contest’s guidelines stated that "contestants must be of good health and of the white race." Twenty years later, Cheryl Browne became the first black contestant, and then Vanessa Williams took the crown as the first black Miss America in 1983.
Pastor Mark Redd said Mason continued a legacy of breaking barriers like Browne and Williams, and he hopes her historic visit will encourage young women to reach for their dreams, as well.
“It is a distinguishment for our times, and a great achievement, living in the time we are and have. For an African-American to be Miss Tennessee, we’re hoping the young ladies will get encouragement that a lot of doors that used to be shut are now open and that they can do whatever they put their minds and hearts to,” Redd said.
The reigning Miss America, Nia Franklin; Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst; and Miss Teen USA, Kaliegh Garris, are all black women. Mason will compete for the Miss America crown in September.