Florida A&M University professor and former Miss FAMU Kimberly Brown Pellum
, Ph.D., recently released her book, Black Beauties: African American Pageant Queens in the Segregated South
(History Press, 2020). The book explores the glamorous history of African American beauty queens by using the stories of former contestants to address colorism and racism still prevalent in the industry. “My mother and grandmother took me to parades to see Miss Alabama State and Miss Tuskegee University…I loved the glamour,” Pellum said. “I wrote the book to capture that experience and address the politics of beauty within our own culture.” Kimberly Brown Pellum served as the model for the new Rosa Parks monument in Montgomery, Alabama.
The allure of pageants, Pellum said, often masked the social and political challenges experienced by contestants. She said their personal stories not only illustrated their unique definitions of beauty, but also served to explain the political identities contestants created for themselves in the quests for their crowns. “So often, public discourse about black beauty is narrated by persons without an intimacy or expertise in the culture. Black beauty is a topic often exploited. This book lifts and centers the voices of black women,” she said.
Pellum specializes in the history of women’s images and southern culture. Her contributions include work at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the Rosa Parks Museum and Google’s Arts & Culture series. Pellum, Miss FAMU 2005, was used as the model for the Rosa Parks statue erected in Montgomery, Ala., in fall 2019. Pellum is also the director of the digital archives project, The Museum of Black Beauty.
Latif Tarik is Assistant Professor of History at Elizabeth City State University located in Elizabeth City, NC. He is the history program coordinator, editorial board member for the digital journal Evoke: A Historical, Theoretical, and Cultural Analysis of Africana Dance and Theatre, and serves as book review editor for the Southern Conference of African American Studies. Latif is a contributor to Race and Ethnicity In America From Pre-Contact the Present, Islam and the Black Experience African American History Reconsidered, African Religions Beliefs and Practices through History, and Africology.