July 16, 1977: Janelle Penny Commissiong-Chow Crowned as the First Black Miss. Universe

4 Posted by - February 4, 2023 - BLACK ART, Black First, BLACK WOMEN

On this day in 1977, a woman was crowned for being the most beautiful and smart female in the whole universe. This time the person that was chosen didn’t have white skin but belonged to a community that always faced racial discrimination around the globe. Janelle Penney Commissiong-Chow is a native of Trinidad and Tobago, who migrated to the United States when she was just 13 but returned to the Port-of-Spain, Trinidad in the year 1976. Commissiong was born on June 15, 1953, with a dream to win something big one day. She started off by winning the title of Miss. Trinidad and then got the life’s best opportunity to be crowned as Miss. Universe in 1977, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She was the first female of African ancestry and first female from the Caribbean to be proudly crowned Miss Universe. Commissiong was born to a Trinidadian father and a Venezuelan mother. Before holding the crown of Miss. Universe, she completed her studies in fashion from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Commissiong stayed famous throughout the Miss. Universe pageant. She was one of the most popular contestants who won the photogenic award of the pageant. She was also considered as one of the favorites to win the pageant. It was observed at that time that Miss. Austria would win the pageant but unfortunately finished as 1st runner-up.

Janelle Penney stood as a public advocate for the rights of Black during her reign. It was the time when people from African ancestry were taken as a minority and faced racial discrimination. She also campaigned for the world peace process, and in 1977 she was awarded the highest honor of Trinidad and Tobago, the Trinity Cross. In her honor, three postage stamps were also released by her country. But in 1978, the successor of Commissiong was from South Africa, and it was extremely ironic to see a Miss. Universe crowning a winner from a nation that was popularly known for racial injustice towards Black community.

After finishing her responsibilities as Miss. Universe, Commissiong beautifully married Brian Bowen, who was the founder of Bowen Marine, a luxury boat manufacturing business. But when her husband died in a car accident she took charge of the company for a while. Later she remarried and adopted a child, Sasha. Like many another famous people from the great Caribbean heritage, Commissiong is a powerful icon from the Trinidad and Tobago society and still manages to run successful businesses.

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