This month, Eastern celebrated the 50th anniversary of Miss Black EIU, a scholarship pageant meant to uplift and empower Black women in Eastern’s student body.
The pageant came at a time in Eastern’s history when that support was much needed for Black students.
In the years leading up to the first Miss Black EIU pageant, Black students fought for equal treatment on campus as civil rights were being fought for across the country. Two years later when Eastern elected its first Black Homecoming Queen, the queen never received her crown as students accused her of violating campaign rules. As students protested the injustice, a cross was burned on the lawn of the fraternity who sponsored the queen.
You may ask yourself why this happened. Why would anyone react in such a drastic way to something as simple as a college homecoming court?
Because while white students have always had a place on this campus, Black students have spent decades creating their own. Whether it be the Black Student Union, Black Greek organizations or Miss Black EIU, the Black community at Eastern has fought to create a space where they can thrive in conditions that have not always been supportive of their growth.
Now, in a time where we see more equality among all people, the significance of these groups and traditions is lost to some. Each year, certain individuals ask if the tradition of these groups and events are racist.
The short answer? No.
Years of oppression and discrimination led to Black people, and more specifically in this case, Eastern’s Black community creating traditions to honor their history and cultures as this world fought to keep them down. But they couldn’t.
So when you ask yourself, “where is the Miss White EIU,” consider also asking this:
“When have white people ever been discriminated against at Eastern?” And no, Miss Black EIU does not count.