AN ACTIVIST as well as a beauty, nineteen-year-old Saundra Williams seemed the ideal winner of the first Miss Black America contest on September 8, 1968. As a student at Maryland State College, she had organized a successful strike to protest a segregated restaurant in the college town of Princess Anne, Maryland. As a contestant, she dazzled with her interpretation of an African dance. Williams became the hit of the pageant, wrote Jet magazine, “when she bounded on the runway in a bright yellow jumpsuit and performed the Fiji.”
Sponsors created the Miss Black America pageant in protest of what they called “the white stereotype” of the Miss American pageant. “This is better than being Miss America,” said Williams, described by Jet as a curvy, hazel-eyed co-ed.” “With my title I can show black women that they too are beautiful.”
For winning the pageant, the daughter of a Philadelphia electrician received a trophy, an all-paid vacation to Puerto Rico, and a modeling contract.