OXFORD, Miss. – By being elected the University of Mississippi’s first African-American homecoming queen, Courtney Roxanne Pearson has made Essence Magazine’s “25 Reasons We’re Proud to Be Black Women” list.
The 21-year-old senior English secondary education major from Memphis is No. 20 on the list, which includes such notables as first lady Michelle Obama, Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, tennis superstar Serena Williams, entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey and ABC News veteran Robin Roberts.
“I grew up knowing what Essence magazine was and always knew it was a pretty big deal,” said Pearson of the latest honor in the nation’s premier publication for African-American women. “Although I’ve subscribed to and read it, I never imagined myself as ever being someone included in it for any reason. I was shocked.”Pearson learned through a family member who saw the piece. At first, she was in disbelief.
“They told me I was in it, and I said, ‘No, I’m not,’” she said. “Once I saw it myself, I said, ‘That’s cool.’
“Pearson won the title in a run-off during annual campus personality elections, and was crowned during halftime ceremonies of the Ole Miss-Auburn game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. She considers her victory an opportunity for people to see how far the university has advanced in race relations since 1962, when James Meredith’s enrollment in the university set off rioting.
Dean of Students Thomas “Sparky” Reardon said Pearson’s election simply validated how deserving she is of such an honor.
“Courtney Pearson has been a real asset to our student body even before this election,” Reardon said. “She loves Ole Miss, and I knew her dad when he was a student here. Courtney was a valuable member of our Orientation Leaders Team and has chaired the University Judicial Council.”
The queen received congratulations from both Chancellor Dan Jones and from Kimbrely Dandridge, who last spring became the first African-American woman to be elected Associated Student Body president.
By being the first minority to win the coveted title, Pearson joins a select group of other African-American female alumna who, as students, also shattered the glass ceiling.
“Rose Jackson Flenorl of Memphis was the first to campaign for Miss Ole Miss back in 1979, but didn’t win,” said Julian Gilner, assistant director of alumni affairs. “Years later, however, she became the first African-American woman to be elected president of the University of Mississippi Alumni Association.”
Years later, Kimsey O’Neal Cooper of Carthage and Carissa Alana Wells of Hamilton became the first African-Americans to win the Miss Ole Miss and Miss University titles, in 1989 and 1997, respectively.
After graduation in May 2013, Pearson plans to apply for the Teach for America program and graduate school.
“Being homecoming queen has been great, but I’m still trying to complete 18 hours of school work this semester,” Pearson said. “I’m looking forward to having a great last semester and finishing on time.”
Pearson is the daughter of Cynthia McNutt Pearson of Winona and Kerry Pearson of Oxford.