Abstract

The women’s liberation movement’s demonstration against the 1968 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, widely canonized as the first major action of the second-wave radical feminist movement, coincided with an event more often forgotten: the first Miss Black America contest. Women’s liberation denounced the oppressive beauty standards of pageants, while, a few blocks away, African American activists and entrepreneurs staged an alternative pageant to champion the beauty of Black women and protest racial exclusion in the Miss America Pageant. This article uses the convergence and incongruity of these two political public performances to reconsider the dominant story of the women’s liberation movement’s protest as told by journalists, second-wave feminists, and historians. Their story, by neglecting the trenchant influence of racial politics and Black activists at play that day, has consolidated the famous protest into a sign of radical feminism’s failure to be a multiracial and intersectional political movement. The article argues that it is only through examining the intersection of women’s liberation, civil rights, and Black Power that we can fully chart the racism that feminism both confronted and reproduced, and recover the diverse work done by women of color in the name of feminism and antiracism.

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