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The Women Of Color Who Made History By Winning The Miss Universe Title

Without the likes of reigning Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi and the women who came before her, critical progress on diversity and inclusivity in the pageant scene would not have been made

Sixโ€”that's the number of times Miss Universe has crowned women of color, specifically women of African descent, since its very first edition in 1952. It truly is a small number when we think of how many Miss Universe winners there have been overall, but it's beginning to feel like the tides are finally changing, albeit gradually, in favor of diversity and inclusivity

Decades since the world's most popular pageant was established, it has moved light years and galaxies away from being a showcase of women awarded for nothing more than their looks and bodies; today, it is a platform for candidates to share their causes and convictions on, as well as a stage for all the world to see that there is beauty in everyone, no matter one's race and cultural or national background. 

The recently concluded Miss Universe 2019 is a testament to this, as Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray's successor was 26-year-old Zozibini Tunzi, a South African beauty whose advocacies focus on teaching girls and women to love their natural beauty, as well as the eradication of gender-based violence.


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With Zozi's coronation being another big win for women of colorโ€”a victory for all women, in actualityโ€”we look back at the Miss Universe titleholders who came before her and helped paved the way for her to succeed. 

Here are six women of color who were crowned Miss Universe: 

1977: Janelle Commissiong from Trinidad and Tobago

Audiences' jaws dropped when bi-racial Janelle won the most coveted crown in the pageant scene and the special award for Miss Photogenic! She was the first-ever black woman to come home with such awards, and it was the first Miss Universe title for her country, too!


Her win in the pageant scene gave rise to critical discussions on diversity in beauty in an industry that once valued European-centric looks as the gold standard of beautiful; thanks to Janelle, women of African descent were encouraged to be more and do more. 

Post-pageantry, she became an advocate for black rights and world peace, and received the Trinity Cross, the highest possible award a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago can receive.

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Miss Universe 1977, the 26th Miss Universe pageant, was held on 16 July 1977 at the National Theater in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad and Tobago was crowned by Rina Messinger of Israel at the end of the event. ๐Œ๐ข๐ฌ๐ฌ ๐”๐ง๐ข๐ฏ๐ž๐ซ๐ฌ๐ž ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ—๐Ÿ•๐Ÿ• โฃ ๐“๐ซ๐ข๐ง๐ข๐๐š๐ ๐š๐ง๐ ๐“๐จ๐›๐š๐ ๐จ ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡น โ€“ ๐‰๐š๐ง๐ž๐ฅ๐ฅ๐ž ๐‚๐จ๐ฆ๐ฆ๐ข๐ฌ๐ฌ๐ข๐จ๐ง๐ โฃ โฃ ๐Ÿ๐ฌ๐ญ ๐‘๐ฎ๐ง๐ง๐ž๐ซ-๐ฎ๐ฉ โฃ Austria ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น โ€“ Eva Dรผringerโฃ โฃ ๐Ÿ๐ง๐ ๐‘๐ฎ๐ง๐ง๐ž๐ซ-๐ฎ๐ฉ โฃ Scotland ๐Ÿด๓ ง๓ ข๓ ณ๓ ฃ๓ ด๓ ฟ โ€“ Sandra Bellโฃ โฃ ๐Ÿ‘๐ซ๐ ๐‘๐ฎ๐ง๐ง๐ž๐ซ-๐ฎ๐ฉ โฃ Colombia ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ด โ€“ Aura Marรญa Mojica Salcedoโฃ โฃ ๐Ÿ’๐ญ๐ก ๐‘๐ฎ๐ง๐ง๐ž๐ซ-๐ฎ๐ฉ โฃ Germany ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช โ€“ Marie-Luise Gassenโฃ โฃ ๐“๐จ๐ฉ ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ โฃ Argentina ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ท โ€“ Maritza Juradoโฃ Dominican Republic ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ด โ€“ Blanca Sardiรฑasโฃ Holland ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ โ€“ Ineke Berendsโฃ Nicaragua ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฎ โ€“ Beatriz Obregรณn Lacayoโฃ Spain ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ โ€“ Luz Hernรกndezโฃ United States ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ โ€“ Kimberly Tomesโฃ Venezuela ๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ช โ€“ Cristal Montaรฑez ๐‚๐จ๐ง๐ ๐ž๐ง๐ข๐š๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ฒโฃ Pamela Mercer - Canada ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ โฃ โฃ ๐๐ž๐ฌ๐ญ ๐๐š๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง๐š๐ฅ ๐‚๐จ๐ฌ๐ญ๐ฎ๐ฆ๐žโฃ Kim Sung-hee - Korea ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท โฃ โฃ ๐๐ก๐จ๐ญ๐จ๐ ๐ž๐ง๐ข๐œโฃ Janelle Commissiong - Trinidad and Tobago ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡น #MissUniverse #MissoloEstieUniverseCrowning #CrowningMoment #1977 #JanelleCommissiong #TrinidadAndTobago

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1995: Chelsi Smith from the United States

It was almost two decades until Miss Universe crowned a second black woman, but when they did, it made history once more. 

Chelsi became the first African-American woman to win the title and later on pursued a career in music and acting. Living a relatively low-profile life after pageantry, she would go on to be a guest judge in several beauty pageants. Unfortunately, her life took a tragic turn just last year when she passed away in September at 45 years old after a battle with liver cancer. 

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Miss Universe 1995, the 44th Miss Universe pageant, was held on 12 May 1995 at the Windhoek Country Club Resort in Windhoek, Namibia. Chelsi Smith of the United States was crowned by Sushmita Sen of India. ๐Œ๐ข๐ฌ๐ฌ ๐”๐ง๐ข๐ฏ๐ž๐ซ๐ฌ๐ž ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ—๐Ÿ—๐Ÿ“ โฃ ๐”๐ง๐ข๐ญ๐ž๐ ๐’๐ญ๐š๐ญ๐ž๐ฌ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ โ€“ ๐‚๐ก๐ž๐ฅ๐ฌ๐ข ๐’๐ฆ๐ข๐ญ๐กโฃ โฃ ๐Ÿ๐ฌ๐ญ ๐‘๐ฎ๐ง๐ง๐ž๐ซ-๐ฎ๐ฉ โฃ India ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ โ€“ Manpreet Brarโฃ โฃ ๐Ÿ๐ง๐ ๐‘๐ฎ๐ง๐ง๐ž๐ซ-๐ฎ๐ฉ โฃ Canada ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ โ€“ Lana Buchbergerโฃ โฃ ๐“๐จ๐ฉ ๐Ÿ” โฃ Puerto Rico ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ท โ€“ Desiree Lowryโฃ Trinidad and Tobago ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡น โ€“ Arlene Peterkinโฃ Venezuela ๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ช โ€“ Denyse Floreanoโฃ โฃ ๐“๐จ๐ฉ ๐Ÿ๐ŸŽ โฃ Colombia ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ด โ€“ Tatiana Castroโฃ Dominican Republic ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ด โ€“ Cรกndida Laraโฃ El Salvador ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ป โ€“ Eleonora Carrilloโฃ South Africa ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ โ€“ Augustine Masilelaโฃ ๐‚๐จ๐ง๐ ๐ž๐ง๐ข๐š๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ฒโฃ Toyin Raji - Nigeria ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฌ โฃ โฃ ๐๐ž๐ฌ๐ญ ๐๐š๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง๐š๐ฅ ๐‚๐จ๐ฌ๐ญ๐ฎ๐ฆ๐žโฃ Marรญa Reyes - Spain ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ โฃ โฃ ๐๐ก๐จ๐ญ๐จ๐ ๐ž๐ง๐ข๐œโฃ Petra Hultgren - Sweden ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช #MissUniverse #MissoloEstieUniverseCrowning #CrowningMoment #1995 #USA #ChelsiSmith

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1998: Wendy Fitzwilliam from Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago was given its second Miss Universe winner. But more than just a tally in a score sheet of black pageant winners, Wendy was, at this time, the most accomplished black woman to be awarded the title. After her Miss Universe win, she continued school and two years after coronation night, she became a lawyer.

Wendy's professional achievements also include becoming the VP of Investment Promotion at Evolving TecKnologies and Enterprise Development Company Limited, Red Cross Youth Ambassador in the Caribbean, and an active advocate of education and diversity. 


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1999: Mpule Kwelagobe from Botswana

Botswana joined Miss Universe for the first time in 1999โ€”and came home with the crown! She was the first black African woman to win one of the Big Four international pageants (Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss International, and Miss Earth).

The magical moment was all thanks to Mpule, a young woman whose bravery in talking about women's reproductive health rights and sex education, as well as the need to address HIV/AIDS-related issues, caught the world's attention. 

Mpule continued the streak of having strong, educated women win the Miss U title, as two years after she had her time on the Miss Universe stage, she finished her education at Columbia University with a degree in international political economy. 

More so, she became a UN Goodwill Ambassador, and is the co-founder of QuesS Capital LLC (a company that invests in finance, agriculture, and energy), which is still in operation today.

For pageant fanatics, they'll remember her for another reasonโ€”she was the Miss U winner who beat the Philippines' very own Miriam Quiambao!


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2011: Leila Lopes from Angola

She was the first woman from Angola to be crowned Miss Universe, and she used much of her time as reigning queen to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS and work with her chosen charities in her home country.

After her reign, she chose to live a low-profile life away from the spotlight and settled down with her husband, American football star Osi Umenyiora, to raise a family.


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2019: Zozibini Tunzi  from South Africa

Last and certainly not least is Zozi from South Africa, the most recent Miss Universe queen and sixth woman of color to wear the crown.

She's the third South African to win the title, but the first black South African candidate to do so. During the Q&A segment, she got her audience of millions to listen to her speak passionately about the causes closest to her heart: ending gender-based violence and encouraging women to love who they are, with the looks they were blessed with. 

Photos from @zozitunzi @officialeilalopes