Originally published 01/16/2013
Blain Roberts, an assistant professor of history at California State University, Fresno, is the author of the forthcoming book “Pretty Women: Female Beauty in the Jim Crow and Civil Rights South.”...From 1921, when the contest began in Atlantic City, through World War II, only one woman representing a former Confederate state won the competition. Then, beginning in 1947, when a woman from Memphis earned the top honor, the fortunes of Southern contestants rose precipitously. From 1950 to 1963, seven southerners were crowned (each served the following year), including back-to-back wins by Mississippians in 1958 and 1959 — though southerners made up only one-fifth of the possible winners.These were, of course, the years when black Southerners opened a full-scale campaign against Jim Crow, prompting a bitter backlash by white Southerners. White resistance began in earnest in 1954, when the Supreme Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, its decision to desegregate public schools.