Miss Tennessee Crowns First African American Pageant Winner

A pageant winner in Tennessee made history as the first African American woman crowned Miss Tennessee.Brianna Mason, 23, was named Miss Tennessee at the Miss Tennessee Scholarship Competition in Knoxville on June 29, The Tennessean reported. The first-grade teacher won a $15,000 scholarship and will represent the state at the Miss America Competition later this year, WATE reported.

"I can't believe I am standing here right now with this sash and this crown and that means I am going to Miss America," Mason said moments after she was crowned the winner, according to The Tennessean.Following her win, Mason’s high school principal Pam Vaden congratulated the 23-year-old on her historic victory.

"I know I speak on behalf of all of my colleagues and the Ravenwood community in congratulating Brianna for hitting the ground running after graduation," Vaden told The Tennessean. "Her courage and tenacity is an inspiring story as she has proven that anything can be accomplished with confidence and belief in oneself. She is a dynamic role model and a legacy for others to follow."Mason, who was Miss Greene County, was one of two African Americans competing in the pageant this year, The Tennessean reported. She told the publication that she wanted to see more people who look like her represented at the competition.

“I have made it my goal over the past couple of years to make sure my face gets up there," Mason told the publication. "Not just for me but for all of the young ladies who look like me.”

This was Mason’s fourth attempt at winning the pageant, and she was a runner-up in last year’s competition, according to the publication. She began competing in pageants after she graduated from Ravenwood High School and began her freshman year at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.The 23-year-old said she joined the pageant scene to make friends, but instantly became “hooked.”

“It’s the quality of the girls that compete,” Mason told The Tennessean. “They are very educated, accomplished, driven and have a lot of experience serving their communities. They are beautiful, talented, and confident. They are some of the most incredible women I know.”Mason, who has been a pianist since the third grade, won the talent portion of the competition by playing “Piano Fantasy” by Williamson Joseph, according to The Tennessean.

She also won the on-stage question preliminaries after she was asked if she believes Confederate monuments should be taken down from public areas in the state. The 23-year-old said seeing these kinds of monuments in public spaces don’t make her “feel positive” and suggested those symbols and monuments belong in museums, according to the publication.“Being one of only two African Americans competing for the title, it was important for me to address that some people are not aware of the African American sentiment toward Civil War statues,” Mason told The Tennessean. “I was proud to take on the responsibility of addressing that issue.”

The first-grade teacher also started her own nonprofit in 2017 called Advocates for Autism, to raise awareness about autism. Mason told the publication she started the nonprofit based on her experience as a teacher and to support a very close friend who has autism. She told the news outlet that she plans on using her platform to continue raising awareness.Mason follows three other Black women who have won pageant competitions this year. In May, Miss North Carolina Cheslie Kryst was crowned Miss USA 2019. The 28-year-old lawyer was one of the 51 female contestants competing for the title, the Associated Press previously reported.

“I’m standing here in Nevada, in the state that has the first female majority legislature in the entire country,” Kryst previously said, according to the AP. “Mine is the first generation to have that forward-looking mindset that has inclusivity, diversity, strength, and empowered women. I’m looking forward to continued progress in my generation.”

Eighteen-year-old Kaleigh Garris, who competed as Miss Connecticut during the Miss Teen USA pageant, was crowned the winner back in April, the New Haven Register previously reported. Nia Franklin, 25, was crowned 2019 Miss America in September 2018, The New York Times previously reported.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.