Miss Black & Beautiful: Rare Pageant Photos Capture Gorgeous Celebrations of Black Women

As a freelance photographer, Raphael Albert captured the turmoil and triumph within west London's Black communities in the 60s and 70s.  An immigrant from Grenada, West Indies, Albert began work just as the Afro-Caribbean population was gaining social and political strength in their new home.

An assignment to cover the Miss Jamaica Pageant for the West Indian World inspired Albert to venture into pageants himself. He organized celebrations of Black women's poise and beauty, including the Miss Black and Beautiful pageant, for three decades.

Now 60 photos from those pageants in the 1970s are featured in an Autograph ABP exhibit called "Miss Black and Beautiful."

In the images, the women are joyful and self assured. With straight hair and their natural textures they represent a reclaiming of dignity.

Pageants for Black women in the United Kingdom did not exist until the 1960s, and Exhibit curator Renée Mussai says that these were important sites of resistance.

"Not only did the pageants offer the opportunity to create a distinct space for Afro-Caribbean self-articulation—a wager against invisibility, if you will—they also responded to contemporaneous mainstream fashion and lifestyle platforms where black women were largely absent, or at best, marginal," Mussai told Artsy.

The photos exemplify a rejection not only of Eurocentric ideals but of marginality in the British populace.

Though participation has climbed, Black women pageant winners are still rare sights. Mussai explains, "The first black African Miss World winner was crowned in 2001; and Miss Universe has had less than five black winners in over five decades." The United States recently crowned its 9th Black Miss USA and eight Black women have won the Miss America pageant.

Albert captured a distinct historical moment, but in the age of #BlackLivesMatter, these displays of cultural uplift feel as crucial as ever.

"Raphael Albert: Miss Black and Beautiful" is showing at Rivington Place, London EC2A 3BA from July 8 - September 24, 2016.

All photographs: Raphael Albert/Autograph ABP