Maury Z. Levy

Posts Tagged ‘miss black america’

The Real Miss Black America Story

In The Trentonian (1968-1970) on August 31, 2009 at 3:13 pm

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[Author’s note: In 1968, while covering the Miss America pageant, we stumbled on this pageant. This story won the state press association award for feature writing.]

ASBURY PARK—Evan Dessasau had been had. He had owned the legal rights to the name “Miss Black America Beauty Pageant, Inc.,” since 1965, when he switched it from “Miss Negro America.”

“Back then, you call a man black and he’s gonna spit in your face.”

Last month, somebody in New York stole Evan Des­sasau’s idea, right down to the name, and held a Miss Black America pageant in Madison Square Garden, on national television. It was enough to break Dessasau’s heart, not to mention his wallet. He had a briefcase full of papers showing that his was the real thing. It didn’t matter much, though, because the real thing was nothing more than a second-class bomb that didn’t even go off on time. There were only three girls, for reasons of health, in the finals, with maybe only 30 people in the audience. It was a real slipshod operation.

“How many judges are there going to be?” we asked Evan Dessasau before the finals.

“Well, we expected to have seven or nine judges, but some of them have called to say they can’t make it, so it looks like we’re going to have only five. One of them will be the Chief of Police of Asbury Park.”

“Will all the Judges be black?”

“Yes, certainly.”

They weren’t. We walk past the dusty old couches on the second floor of the aging but rustic Berkeley-Car­teret Hotel, to the Crystal Room, a modest Victorian ball­room done up in red and decorated with three giant crys­tal chandeliers that weren’t so clear anymore. There are five young black guys in the corner, blasting some good soul music. They, are competing with the clanking of dishes from the kitchen next to them. They finally won out, but it was a long battle.

The judges come in and sit at a table on the other side. There are five of them, alright, but one of them is a white man. He is wearing a gray shirt with double patch pockets, the kind a cop would wear. He looks like a cop. We figure he is the chief of the Asbury Park police, that Dessasau was wrong about his color.

The pageant goes on for a very long time. Now, it is near the end. The judges leave the room to vote for a winner. They are gone for a very long time. There is no secret ballot, no point system. They just go into a room off to the side and argue it all out.

It is between Miss New Jersey and Miss Michigan, the crowd is saying. Miss New Jersey is very Afro looking. Miss Michigan is very white looking.

The judges come back, some with very serious faces. The white man is smiling.

“Hey,” someone says after some quick checking, “the white guy isn’t the chief of police, it’s the black guy in the middle.”

“Who the hell is the white guy then?”   Read the rest of this entry »

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