ATLANTIC CITY, SEPT. 9 (SUNDAY) -- Marjorie Judith Vincent, a daughter of Haitian immigrants, was crowned Miss America early this morning, becoming the second black woman in a row to hold the title.
The 21-year-old Vincent, a scholarship student at Duke University School of Law, represented Illinois during the 70th anniversary running of the nation's richest beauty pageant and talent competition. As Miss America 1991, Vincent stands to earn as much as $300,000 in prizes, personal appearances and a $35,000 scholarship.
As first runner-up last night, judges chose Mary Waddell Gainey, Miss South Carolina. Dana Brown, Miss Tennessee, was second runner-up; Suzanne Lawrence, Miss Texas, was third runner-up; and Linnea Marie Fayard, Miss Louisiana, was fourth runner-up.
After Debbye Turner, the retiring Miss America, embraced and crowned her, host Gary Collins asked Vincent if she would consent to let Bert Parks, the former master of ceremonies back in Atlantic City after 10 years of forced exile, step in to sing "There She Is." Vincent nodded and then, brushing tears from her eyes, took her first promenade down the runway as the new Miss America.
"I'm so honored; she's a tough act to follow," Vincent said of Turner moments after the midnight conclusion of the pageant, which was seen by an estimated 50 million viewers on NBC television.
Vincent proved a formidable contestant in an era when pageant officials are nudging the competition toward a more relevant and well-rounded image. She spoke during the pageant about legal solutions to domestic violence against women and the rehabilitiation of abusers.
A law student hoping to practice international law and work in the economic development of Haiti, Vincent is also an accomplished concert pianist. Her father, according to her pageant biography, is a doorman and check cashier; her mother a self-employed seamstress, caterer and cook.
Miss Virginia, Shannon Noelle DePuy, was among the 10 finalists from whom last night's Miss America and her court were chosen. The others were Miss Pennsylvania, Marla Winn; Miss Iowa, Kerrie Lynne Rosenberg; Miss Oklahoma, Cynthia Lynne White; and Miss Colorado, Karrie Mitchell.
Parks, cashiered as emcee by pageant officials a decade ago, was back for the first time to salute 29 former Miss Americas with a special rendition of "There She Is." Greeted with a standing ovation in the cavernous Atlantic City Convention Hall, Parks showed his rustiness when he mixed up his cue cards during his introduction of the returning Miss Americas, failing to identify approximately half of them.
There was no Miss District of Columbia competing in this year's pageant. National officials of the Miss America organization yanked the D.C. pageant's franchise after its organizers failed to extricate themselves from about $200,000 of debt.