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Date Posted: 15:08:49 09/17/23 Sun
It was on this day, exactly 40 years ago, Saturday, September 17, 1983, that 50 young women from all around the nation went to Atlantic City, New Jersey with the hopes of being named Miss America 1984....or at least a good chance at some big money at the casinos!!
Even before they arrived, it was almost a foregone conclusion, and surely once Miss New Jersey, Suzette Charles was called as first runner-up, leaving six women remaining on stage, that Miss New York, Vanessa Williams would be named Miss America, and also make history as the first black woman to be crowned.
Not only did Vanessa become the first black to win the coveted crown, but she was also the first black to win double preliminary awards (swimsuit and talent), and the first black to win the talent preliminary without being tied with another contestant (like Miss Washington 1980, Janelle Hayes, tied with Mis Oklahoma 1980, Susan Powell for the talent honors): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_America_1984
It was also the year for four blacks to compete in the same Miss America pageant, the most ever at that point: Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina; and also a Latina, Miss South Carolina.
And the 1983 Miss America pageant had three women who would hold a national pageant title later in 1984.....Vanessa, then Suzette assuming the Miss America title in July 1984, and also Miss New Mexico, Mai Therese Shanley became Miss USA on May 17, 1984----coincidentally all there were consecutive three in the 1983 Miss America parade of states: New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York.
It could also be said that Vanessa's groundbreaking racial victory help propel the majority black city of Washington to bring back the Miss District of Columbia pageant, which had not sent a delegate since the 1963 pageant (interestingly, of all things, that year Rosanne Tueller was a double preliminary winner who won first runner-up honors. You would think after that amazing accomplishment, the best since 1956 and 1944, that the D.C. pageant would be held in 1964).
As the 1983 Miss America entrants sang (or perhaps lip-synching) the Glenn and Edna Osser opening number "Go For It", it was one of the best produced Miss America pageants---even if the media and those in Atlantic City all knew full well who would end-up experiencing "Happy Days" that weekend in Atlantic City!!!
Congratulations and happy 40th anniversary to Vanessa and all of the 49 other women who made that year's Miss America pageant a delight to remember--and watch--on video four decades later!!!
Quiz for those born before the 1980s, where were you exactly 40 years ago on Saturday, September 17, 1983?
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