FORNEY, Texas — Celebrations for Juneteenth have already begun across the country as communities prepare to recognize June 19 as a national holiday for the first time.
In addition to family gatherings, barbecues, storytelling, and unity programs, one of the holiday traditions is crowning a Miss Juneteenth.
“I am overwhelmed,” said Linda Sanders as she gathered memorabilia in her living room.
Sanders was President and Founder of the Miss Juneteenth Scholarship Beauty Pageant from 1990 to 1997. The event helped promote cultural awareness and self-esteem to a variety of African American young women over the years.
“They were not given the opportunity that some of those like the Miss Texas, the Miss America pageant, and I felt that to make this a more meaningful Juneteenth was to change that,” Sanders explained.
The former hair and print catalog model once graced the pages of Jet magazine in October 1973.
”Let me tell you, everybody and their momma and daddy back then had a Jet magazine,” Sanders said, laughing.
She says the idea of her Miss Juneteenth Scholarship and Beauty Pageant grew while teaching etiquette classed at Moreland YMCA in Oak Cliff. Sanders felt the pageant could be an outlet to help boost self-esteem, provide scholarships, and prepare young Black women for the world.
“The purpose was to promote them, to make them feel like they’re a part of the community,” Sanders explained.
Dozens of women from across North Texas competed to become Miss Juneteenth. Some of them went on to be nationally recognized professionals in politics, music, literary arts, film and other industries.
Sanders believes her Miss Juneteenth pageant holds a special history, especially for women and people who may have felt overlooked.
“Our mission was to make them feel that they are worthy to pursue anything in life,” Sanders said.