In September 1990, Marjorie Judith Vincent beat out 50 other hopefuls for the title of Miss America 1991. Vincent had come to the USA at age 3 with her Haitian parents (Lucien and Florence Vincent immigrating from Cap Haitian, Haiti in the early 1960s (although some newspaper reports would also say that she was the first of their kids born in the USA). Fluent in French, and Kreyol, and studying Japanese at the time, Vincent knocked out the judges with her piano-playing skills, expertly playing Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu 66 to the delight and amazement of onlookers.
At 25, she was already a third-year law student at Duke University School of Law in North Carolina, and at 5’6, she was a gorgeous beauty. Things didn’t start out easy. She had participated in the Miss North Carolina and Miss Illinois pageants and had not won. She tried for the latter one more time, and won, leading to her being part of the Miss America contest. In winning the contest, she won $42,500 in scholarship money, and was able to command $100,000 in speaking fees.
Marjorie Judith Vincent’s crowning was a triumph-filled moment for Haitians everywhere, who were among the estimated 60 million television viewers who witnessed her being crowned. Haitian identity wasn’t in the best state at this point. In March of 1990, a few months before Vincent becoming Miss America, the U.S Federal Drug Administration had placed Haitians on its list of ethnic groups most likely to be carriers of AIDS, and banned blood donations from them. Haitians responded by rallying a group of about 50,000 to march on the Brooklyn Bridge in protest. Floods of refugees were also arriving in South Florida and being repatriated as economic refugees, adding to problems in the community.
According the newspaper The Daily Gazette at her first official press conference as Miss America, Vincent emphasized her Haitian heritage and expressed her desire to lend to the economic development of Haiti. Vincent made the cover of Jet magazine, as she had the distinguishing honor of being the fourth Miss America.
The weekend that Vincent won the Dallas Morning News wrote: “Miss America 1991 Marjorie Judith Vincent said Sunday that she’s a romantic who wants it all and plans to use her reign to help battered women. Ms. Vincent said she wants to celebrate her win with cheesecake her pageant director denied her.”
Naturally, the Haitian community was more than happy to claim her as their own! Ou konnen Ayisyen p’ap lage’w! According to a brief article that appeared in the December 1990 issue of the Miami Herald under the headline MISS AMERICA HOPEFUL FOR STABILITY IN HAITI, the newspaper wrote: “Marjorie Judith Vincent, Miss America 1991 — a particular source of pride and symbol of hope for Miami’s Haitian community — arrived in Miami on Thursday night with a special message: “It’s the hard work and determination that really counts,” she said. Marjorie Judith Vincent, 25, is visiting at the invitation of the Haitian American Women’s Coalition. The third-year law student, who is of Haitian descent, will speak to students at Toussaint Louverture Elementary.”
Vincent was tireless and showed a great deal of stamina as she had to travel all over for speaking engagements, and appearances. As opposed to becoming an attorney, Vincent became a television anchor in Mississippi, then Illinois, then in Ohio. There were some reports that indicated that she suffered from depression in later years for a time, but clearly being the trooper that she was she has successfully fought it. She also used her platform to bring attention to depression.
Today, Ms Vincent has a son Cameron and lives in Jacksonville with her husband Wesley Tripp. She had dropped out of Duke’s law program, short of the 4 credits needed to graduate with her law degree to pursue television journalism. In 2008, she finally completed her degree at Florida Coastal Law School, fulfilling her dream of becoming an attorney. She is part of history, having been the first Haitian Miss America (some say Suzette Charles, Miss America 1984 was of Haitian descent, but Ms Charles never indicated this) and the fourth black woman Miss America.
You can see the piano performance that help her win the Miss America title below.
And ah, the crowning moment. You can view it below: