Carole Ann-Marie Gist: First Black Miss USA Turns 50

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Carole Anne-Marie Gist made history nearly 30 years ago on stage when she was crowned Miss USA. It was the first time a Black woman had ever won the title and shattered mainstream myths and biases of African American beauty.

Gist first won the title of Miss Michigan USA and went on to win the Miss USA crown on March 2, 1990 in Wichita, Kansas. The 1990 pageant had representatives from Georgia (Brenda Leithleiter), Alaska (Karin Elizabeth Meyer), Kentucky (Tiffany Tenfelde), South Carolina (Gina Tolleson) and Karin Hartz of New Jersey making up with Gist the Top 6 finalists.

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Gist, a 6-foot in Detroit native, 20 years old at the time, eventually became first runner-up to Mona Grudt of Norway in the Miss Universe pageant of that same year. She was also the first contestant from Michigan to win Miss USA, and broke the five-year streak of winners from Texas.

During the time of her crowning, Gist was a junior majoring in marketing at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan, from which she received her bachelor’s degree. Gist received over $200,000 in cash in prizes.

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Throughout her reign as Miss USA, Gist captivated audiences with her stories of being from a single parent home where she had a number of siblings and having to overcome numerous financial and social obstacles. She described the family’s frequent moves in some of the roughest neighborhoods in inner-city Detroit and of her homes being frequently burglarized.

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Gist said that money was always scarce in her family and that poverty prevented her from…