BY WALTER OPINDE
On this day, 14th June, 1970, Cheryl Adrienne Brown won the Miss Iowa Pageant, thereby becoming the first African-American to compete in the Miss America beauty pageant.
Cheryl Adrienne Brown was born in New York City to a black family and later broke down racial barriers in 1970 when she became the first African-American woman to compete in the Miss America Pageant. She studied dance and worked as a model before moving to Decorah for college studies. In addition to her studies, Brown found time to work as a professional model. She opted to attend Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Adrienne chose the school because her family was the fifth-generation Lutheran, and her minister recommended the college to her.
As a daughter of a Port Authority officer and a hospital clinic manager, she grew up in Queens with three brothers. Ms. Brown studied dance as a child and attended LaGuardia’s Performing Arts High School in Manhattan. Her first success in beauty pageants came when she was 13 years old as the runners-up in New York’s Miss Teenage America. Brown first won a local pageant, which allowed her to compete for the state title. On 13th June, 1970, she beat out 19 contestants for Miss Iowa. “I’m glad I’m Miss Iowa instead of Miss New York,” Brown told The New York Times. She further asserted that she had more of the chances of being judged for her origin in that part of the country. The racial issues were too intense in New York.
Nonetheless, Adrienne’s win and success in Iowa was not without controversies. Some people, including a number of her fellow contestants, were upset that she was merely an African-American; others thought a native Iowan should have won. Brown did not let any of the criticisms bother her, though she did confirm that a heightened security was provided to her during the pageant rehearsals.
According to newspaper reports, Brown later married and settled in Georgia. She has worked in the financial sector for more than 25 years and had two children. Reflecting on her groundbreaking appearance in the Miss America Pageant, Brown said in a Quad-City Times interview, “I feel that my presence expanded people’s minds and their acceptance. And, in subsequent years, they were much more open and scared of the African-American candidates.”
“Black New Yorker chosen Miss Iowa.” The Register-Guard, July 5, 1970: 8E.
Davis, Shirley. “History follows former Miss Iowa First black pageant winner recalls her crowning moment.” Quad-City Times, October 19, 2000.