Vera Lúcia Couto dos Santos: First black woman to win a major Brazilian beauty contest and represent the country in an international beauty pageant

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There was an excitement in the air during the first semester of 1964, in the then newly created state of Guanabara. Where, for the first time, a black woman won the title of Miss Guanabara, competing for Clube Renascença (Renaissance Club). Her name: Vera Lúcia Couto dos Santos

Vera with her parents after her victory
Vera with her parents after her victory

There was an excitement in the air during the first half of 1964, in the then the newly created state of Guanabara. A military coup had just taken hold of the country, beginning a political persecution of the fledgling regime protesters. Amidst all the uproar, its capital, Rio de Janeiro prepared for the celebration of its fourth centenary the following year. For it was in the midst of this confusing picture that for the first time a black woman won the title of Miss Guanabara, competing Clube Renascença (Renaissance Club). Her name: Vera Lúcia Couto dos Santos.

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The club was founded in 1951 by a group of middle-class blacks, tired of discrimination suffered at other clubs and associations of Rio de Janeiro. Created as a social space where the founders and families could attend the Rena, as is known the club that is today located in the neighborhood of Andaraí, without any embarrassment.

Although for many the victory of Vera Lúcia may have seemed a surprise, it was only the culmination of a line of beautiful black women in the Renascença tradition started in the late 1950s. The first candidate, the shopkeeper Dirce Machado came fourth in the Miss Guanabara competition; in the year previous to the election of Vera in 1963, Aizita Nascimento also came in the fourth place, but earned cheers from fans at the Maracanãzinho arena, where 25 thousand people chanted “we want the mulata”, contesting her fourth place finish, and requesting that she take the title. From there, one could assume that a better placing would soon come.

The dispute over the post of representative of Clube Renascença in the Miss Guanabara of 1964 was marked by a fierce contest between Vera Lúcia and none other than Esmeralda Barros. On one side was the sweet, delicate and youthful beauty Vera, a counterpoint to the “quatrocentos talheres (400 cutlery)” mulherão (1) style of Emeralda. “She was the favorite because she had a respectable physique, and a graceful presence on the catwalk, having already worked in shows, but I believe I won more on the catwalk than for the question of physique. It turned out that she entered with the attitude of the “I’ve already won”, “I’m the one”, “this title can’t go to anyone else”. I think the audience and the judges noticed it and it was there that she lost.

Fairy tales, witches and villains

Soon after winning the Miss Renascença and Miss State of Guanabara, the pressure on Vera Lúcia became greater. One day, in the midst of rehearsals for the Miss Brasil, she received a phone call in which a person who claimed to be her friend and that liked her, advised her to give up the Miss contest because, according to this person, a group of ladies from the society rented tables near the runway only to boo and destabilize her. Moreover, the carnivalesco (2) Evandro de Castro Lima had his name removed from the list of jurors, because he publicly declared his vote for Vera Lúcia. In his place was journalist Pomona Politis who reportedly didn’t like blacks. On the day of the contest, the group of women didn’t show up, but during Vera’s appearance on the catwalk, a possessed woman shouted: “Get outta here, crioula (3). Your place is in the kitchen. You don’t belong here, you know?” The hysterical woman screamed loudly, following Vera between the tables. After finishing second in the Miss Brazil, Vera Lúcia represented Brazil in the Miss International Beauty in Long Beach, California (USA) and took third place. Also in 1964, she also won the Miss Fotogenia (Miss Photogenic).

Vera dressed in traditional baiana clothing
Vera dressed in traditional baiana clothing

In 1965, the year of celebration of the Fourth Centenary of the city, she paraded in an open car on Avenida Presidente Vargas, an event promoted by businessman Abrahão Medina, father of businessman Roberto Medina.

Vera on the cover of EBONY magazine in July of 1965
Vera on the cover of EBONY magazine in July of 1965

About natural male harassment to beautiful women who become famous, Vera Lúcia said that she had not suffered this for several reasons. “First, because all invitations were directed to my father; Second I was always be surrounded by family and friends and, third, being representative of the Renascença, a black social club, which restricted the raptures of the boldest womanizers of the occasion.”

Vera, left, came in second place in Miss Brasil 1964. Pictured here with winner Angela Vasconcelos and Maria Isabel de Avelar Elias who came in third place
Vera, left, came in second place in Miss Brasil 1964. Pictured here with winner Angela Vasconcelos and Maria Isabel de Avelar Elias who came in third place

Her achievements opened many doors. Vera traveled to Europe, the United States, Argentina and other parts of the world, learned to speak English and French, was the theme of a song, the 1965 marcha tune, “Mulata Bossa Nova” of singer/songwriter João Roberto Kelly, but, unlike her colleagues Aizita Nascimento, Dirce Machado and Esmeralda Barros, she didn’t pursue an artistic career.

Aizita Nascimento, Dirce Machado and Esmeralda Barros
Aizita Nascimento, Dirce Machado and Esmeralda Barros

After her fame, she married and had two children, Cristiane and Rafael, got divorced and worked for 33 years ago at Riotur, a business tourist agency in Rio de Janeiro, as assistant director of Operations and Events.

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On the election of the Angolan Leila Lopes (4), Vera affirmed that it was very good for the self esteem of black women who, regardless of beauty, are imposing themselves and no longer accepting an inferior position. But she laments, for example, the sporadic achievements of the title of beauty for black women. “I do not mean that only black should win the Miss contests, but I believe there is beauty in all ethnicities. Venezuela is a country that has a large contingent of black people, but the Misses that represent the country are always blond, with light-colored eyes, giving a false impression of Europe incrusted in South America. One of the things I’m proud of is having shown another side of Brazil to the world. When I went to the United States to compete for the title of Miss International Beauty, the most they expected was a brunette. They were surprised when they saw a black Brazilian woman. Imagine that, at the height of the civil rights struggle of black Americans!

Recent appearance on TV Brasil
Recent appearance on TV Brasil

Notes

1. “Quatrocentos talheres” meaning “four hundred pieces of cutlery” refers to a female that is so much woman, so “tasty-looking” that it would take “four hundred pieces of cutlery” to “consume” her. “Mulherão” refers to a charming, attractive woman that turns heads whenever she enters a place.

2. A professional organizer who puts together Carnaval parades

3. Crioula/crioulo – In 19th century Brazil, the term crioulo referred to slaves that had been born in Brazil, distinguishing them from those born in Africa. In the 20th century, crioulo referred to dark-skinned descendants of Africans, black or mulato and could be considered an offensive term.

4. Leila Lopes is an Angolan beauty queen who won the titles of Miss Angola UK 2010, Miss Angola 2010 and Miss Universe 2011, which was held in São Paulo, Brazil. Source: Wiki

Source: Raça Brasil

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About Marques Travae 2894 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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  1. While all three refer to persons of African descent, what is the difference between the terms preto, pardo and negro? | Black Women of Brazil

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