Liberating Beauty?: Pageantry and Power in the Black Freedom Movement
Micki McElya (Professor, History, UConn)
Wednesday, March 9, 2022, 4:00pm, HBL 4-209
The event will also be livestreamed with automated captioning.
This talk examines the centrality of beauty pageants—of the celebratory display and competitive assessment of the appearance and deportment of Black girls and women—to the diverse range of Black politics, activist strategies, and visions for freedom and liberation in the United States from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Common to all was an investment in contesting white supremacist beauty standards, claiming the authority to define Black beauty, and harnessing its liberating possibilities. As both subjects and the objects of these investments, Black girls and women confronted an always fraught, often violent terrain of beauty’s opportunities, limitations, pleasures, and awful degradations. As an ideal, a set of practices, and as daily labor, beauty could be many things, but it was fundamentally always about race, gender, and power.
Micki McElya is professor of History and affiliated faculty with the Africana Studies Institute, American Studies Program, and the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program. Her current book project, No More Miss America! How Protesting the 1968 Pageant Changed a Nation will be published by Avid Reader Press (Simon & Schuster) and recently earned a 2022–2023 Public Scholar award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. McElya’s last book, The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery, was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2017 and a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. It was a co-winner of the 2018 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize from the Foundation for Landscape Studies, winner of the inaugural Sharon Harris Book Prize from UConn’s Humanities Institute, and finalist for the 2016 Jefferson Davis Book Award from the American Civil War Museum. She is also the author of Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, which won a 2007 Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights.
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