After 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde won the first Scripps Spelling Bee champion from Louisiana and the second Black Scripps champion in the competition’s 96-year history, people on social media and throughout the world praised Black girl magic.
In 1998, Jody-Anne Maxwell, a 12-year-old Jamaican girl, was the first.
Many people feel that another Black logophile had a chance to win the prestigious award, but that she was cheated because of racism during the Jim Crow era. According to a press statement from Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s office, the Senate is now honoring her and her resilience with a resolution.
MacNolia Cox, just 13 years old, became the first Black student to qualify for the competition’s finals in 1936. However, her voyage to Washington, D.C., was unlike those of her white peers.
The young girl from Akron, Ohio, was forced to stay in a separate hotel and was not permitted to sit with the other event attendees.
What author Van Jordan of “M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A,” a book about Cox and the National Spelling Bee, called “despicable” was that the judges, all white Southerners, chose a name for Cox that was not on the list of 100,000 contest-approved words judges may submit to entrants.
The young youngster misspelled the word “Nemesis,” which was capitalized and disqualified from the competition. Outrage erupted. Despite this, she finished fifth in the tournament and received a $75 prize. Van Jordan said, “They pulled a word that wasn’t on that list, and you can’t make this up: the word was nemesis.”
Following Avant-historic garde’s victory, Portman and fellow Senator Sherrod Brown collaborated to approve a “bipartisan resolution to celebrate the life and legacy of Ohio resident MacNolia Cox,” according to a statement released by Portman to New5 Cleveland.
“As a 13-year-old girl, MacNolia traveled to Washington, D.C. to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee as one of the first Black pupils, where she faced segregation and racial persecution. MacNolia’s resolve to show off her abilities, despite the fact that many people did not want her to succeed, continues to encourage and inspire young people of color today,” Brown added.
“MacNolia Cox was a trailblazer for those who would follow in her footsteps as the first of two Black students to compete in the National Spelling Bee as a finalist,” the politician stated.
The 45th anniversary of Cox’s death in 1976 will be celebrated on Sept. 12, 2021. At the age of 53, she died of breast cancer.
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