Asya Branch, a student at the University of Mississippi, set a number of firsts in her home state when she won the Miss USA 2020 title on Monday evening at Elvis Presley's Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
The 22-year-old made history as the first Black woman to be crowned Miss Mississippi USA and Monday night's win was the first time a Mississippi contestant won the overall title.
"I couldn't believe that my name had been called," Branch, a native of Booneville, said on "Good Morning America" on Tuesday. "I'm the first Miss Mississippi to have been crowned Miss USA and so, honestly I was just honored and overwhelmed and completely overjoyed."
Branch's historic win comes just one year after Black women made history in the pageant world, sweeping all the top titles. In 2019, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss America, Miss Universe and Miss World crowned Black women as winners at the same time.
The historic group of Black women included Toni-Ann Singh, who was crowned as Miss World, along with 2019 Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, 2019 Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris, 2019 Miss America Nia Franklin and 2019 Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi.
It was a historic shift from past pageants when some competitions did not even allow women of color to participate in its earliest years. The Miss America pageant, for instance, did not allow Black contestants for the first 30 years of its existence. Now, Black women have won major competitions and are using their platforms to change the world.
Branch discussed how she plans to tackle criminal justice and prison reform during her tenure as Miss USA 2020. In an interview with Miss Mississippi USA prior to the competition, Branch said her father's incarceration for 10 years inspired her to advocate for reform.
"I will continue fighting for criminal justice and prison reform; that's something that is near and dear to my heart," Branch said on "GMA." "I hope to continue making change within throughout my reign."
The newly crowned Miss USA competed alongside contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each went through a series of preliminary rounds, including swimsuit, previously recorded virtual interviews and the evening gown competition. In the final round, Branch went on to answer hard-hitting questions about gun laws.
"I think it's important that we not ban guns because obviously people will find a way to get what they want anyways," said Branch in her final statement. "But I think it's our Second Amendment right and we just need more safety surrounding that."
The competition was originally scheduled to take place in spring, but it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Branch is joined by Miss Teen USA 2020 Ki'ilani Arruda, the second Hawaiian woman to win the national teen pageant.