Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

Iman Kerigo, Miss Norway (Courtesy Iman Kerigo); Titi Aynaw, Miss Israel (Tumblr); Sonia Rolland, Miss France (Getty Images)

On Saturday Nov. 9, 2013, Ytiyish “Titi” Aynaw will make history as the first woman of African descent to represent Israel in the Miss Universe pageant. Aynaw, who is of Ethiopian Jewish ancestry, is the first black woman to hold the Miss Israel title. She has declared herself to be a fan of President Obama and called meeting him a highlight of her reign as Miss Israel. Aynaw is not the only black beauty queen barrier-breaker. Here is a look at other black beauty queens who made history.

Corinne Huff, Miss Ohio USA

Wikipedia Commons

Huff was the first black woman to represent any state in one of the major beauty pageants. In 1960 she was runner-up in the Miss Ohio USA pageant. Shortly after the winner, Kathy Justice, was declared ineligible due to her age, Huff was named Miss Ohio and represented the state in that year’s Miss USA pageant. According to reports at the time, news of her participation generated extensive racial hostility. Huff would go on to further notoriety when she became the love interest of famed controversial Harlem Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, the first black congressman elected in New York.

Cheryl Brown, Miss Iowa  


Brown made history as the first black woman to ever compete in the Miss America pageant in 1970. The talented ballet dancer represented as the first black Miss Iowa.

Jayne Kennedy Overton, Miss Ohio USA


Also in 1970, Overton competed in the Miss USA pageant and became one of the first black women to become a top-15 semi-finalist. Overton would make history yet again by becoming one of the first national female sports reporters on the show NFL Today.

Janelle Commissiong, Miss Universe


1977 was a banner year for black beauty queens. Commissiong, Miss Trinidad and Tobago, became the first black woman to win the Miss Universe crown.

Lencola Sullivan, Miss Arkansas  

Encyclopedia of Arkansas

In 1980, Sullivan, Miss Arkansas, became the first black woman to become a finalist in the Miss America pageant. Though she did not win, she did make the top five, coming that much closer to making history.

Vanessa Williams, Miss America  

Getty Images

Williams, who would eventually become a successful Broadway, film and recording star, made history in 1983 when she became the first black woman crowned Miss America. A nude photo scandal would force her to relinquish her crown to first-runner-up Suzette Charles, who was also African-American, making 1983 a groundbreaking year for black beauty queens.

Juliette Powell, Miss Canada  


In 1989 Powell, who is biracial, became the first woman of black ancestry to win the Miss Canada title. She would go on to a career as a successful journalist.

Carole Gist, Miss USA


At just 20, Gist became the first black woman to win the Miss USA crown.

Chelsi Smith, Miss Universe  

Getty Images

In 1995 Smith, who is biracial, made history twice in one year, becoming the first woman of black ancestry to win the Miss Texas USA title, and the first black American woman to win the Miss Universe title.

Malou Hansson, Miss Sweden  


In 2002, Hansson, who is of Ghanaian and Swedish descent, became the first Miss Sweden of black ancestry.

Rachel Christie, Miss England  


Christie won the Miss England crown in 2009, becoming the first black woman to do so. Unfortunately she was forced to relinquish her crown after being accused of assaulting another pageant contestant.

Sonia Rolland, Miss France  

Getty Images

In 2000 Rolland became the first Miss France born on the African continent. Her family, made up of an African mother and a French father, had fled Africa during the Rwandan conflict. Her reign came seven years after Veronique de la Cruz became the first woman of black ancestry to be named Miss France, in 1993. 


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated that Rolland was the first woman of black ancestry to win the Miss France crown.

Iman Kerigo, Miss Norway  

Courtesy of Iman Kerigo

Kerigo, a native of Kenya, in 2010 became the first black woman named Miss Norway.

Laura Beyne, Miss Belgium  

Getty Images

Tatiana Silva, who is of Cape Verdean descent, won the Miss Belgium crown in 2005, although it is unclear if she ethnically identifies as African. Laura Beyne won the title in 2012. Her father is Belgian, while her mother is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Titi Aynaw, Miss Israel  


In 2013 21-year-old Ytiyish “Titi” Aynaw, a native of Ethiopia who was raised in Israel, became the first black woman to be crowned Miss Israel.

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