Carole Anne-Marie Gist, the First Black Miss USA

Updated on December 24, 2019
Rachelle Williams profile image

I was an 80s teen, so I love to cover all things easily recognizable to Generation X!

Carole Anne-Marie Gist is the first African American woman to secure the title of Miss USA; she won her crown on March 2nd, 1990. The general public is more familiar with Vanessa Lynn Williams, the first black woman to claim the title of Miss America in 1983, and Kenya Moore, a current The Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member and the second black woman to win Miss USA.

Williams and Moore are more familiar because they went on to high profile careers in the entertainment industry, but Carole Gist deserves recognition for her accomplishment to black history, and indeed, U.S. history overall.

In this article, we will learn more about this beautiful black woman and we will catch up on the events of her life since her historic win, so let's get on with the business of finding out whatever happened to Carole Gist.

The Early Years

Carole Anne-Marie Gist was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She and her siblings, two younger sisters and a brother, were raised by her single-parent mother, Joan Gist, in some of the toughest neighborhoods of inner-city Detroit.

Gist has often spoken of the financial struggles that she and her family endured, and people looked up to her for her rise from poverty. While other pageant contestants were privy to performing arts lessons and hailed from middle to upper class neighborhoods, Gist and her family were dealing with constant break-ins and relocations and they were lucky to scrape by on what little they had. She has often cited her rough childhood as a reason for her perseverance. Indeed, she took a negative situation and made it positive.

Although she had no formal training in any of the arts, Gist was still able to pull in a spotlight on herself. Her school mates recall that she once jumped off of the top of a garage to show everyone how tough she was.

Despite the financial obstacles she faced growing up, the intelligent young woman still graduated, with honors, from The Cass Technical High School in 1987. She went on to earn a bachelor's degree in Marketing Management from Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.

Carole Anne-Marie Gist is Crowned the First Black Miss USA

On the evening of March 2, 1990, when Carole Gist was crowned Miss USA, she was awarded over $200,000 in cash and other prizes. She also broke a Texas streak, which was the then-current situation where a contestant from Texas had won the crown for the previous five years in a row before her historic win.

As Miss USA, she cited one of her main goals as being a desire to help fund the performing arts programs for inner-city youth. Her ultimate dream would be to help to build a fine arts institute. She stated that she always wanted to be properly trained in voice and dance, but she was never given the opportunity to do so.

At the time of her win, Gist was working as a singer at a night club and was still a junior at Northwood. She put her studies on pause to fulfill her Miss USA duties. She was a deeply religious young woman who often spoke of being blessed and proud to represent the black community.

Her life, after winning the crown, was elevated, but it was not what the promise of winning Miss USA should have been. Gist claimed her rein was fraught with long days, little pay, and broken promises of prizes and benefits. Her claims of maltreatment were so bad until she filed a lawsuit against the pageant.

In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, the 21-year-old Gist claims pageant organizers never produced a contract that listed the specific obligations or compensation for the duties she was to fulfill during her one-year term.

She alleged that she often worked every day of the week without overtime or holiday pay—these things are the right of every worker in the United States and Gist did not understand why these same rights were not being extended to her.

Although several pageant winners voiced their agreement and support of Gist and pageant officials stated Gist's concerns were not completely without merit, her lawsuit was ultimately dismissed. However, her labor lawsuit against the pageant resulted in her being another first; Gist was the first titleholder to take legal action against any national pageant.

In the end, Carole Gist would go on to state, "I would never tell a young lady not to embark on this adventure. It's a wonderful adventure." So, it is apparent she meant to stand her ground about labor law violations, but she held no overall ill-will about the positive ideas and ultimate experience of the Miss USA Pageant.

Life After Miss USA

Most recently, Gist has spoken of not grasping the enormity of her status of being the first black woman to win the title of Miss USA during the time of her reign. However, as she looks back on the experience, she recognizes the importance of her status and she is humbled by the achievement.

After the glitz and glamour of the crown died down, she briefly dabbled in a singing career, but ultimately she did not care for the L.A. hustle, so she went back to Michigan to pursue her studies. After working in hotel management, she married Doreonne Stramler and she became the mother of 2 children.

Gitst has remained close to her faith and she found a career she loves as a fitness coach at Wayne State University. At last check, she was pursuing a master's degree in Kinesiology, which is the scientific study of human or non-human body movement.

We salute Carole-Anne Marie Gist for her accomplishment of being the first black Miss USA in history and we wish her well in all her future endeavors.


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    • Rachelle Williams profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachelle Williams 

      5 months ago from Tempe, AZ

      I agree Mis Dora! Thanks for the support!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for recalling this historical moment for Carole Gist! She deserves the tribute for the win but also for her courageous and also humane attitude toward the pageant.


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