Franklin, 24, wowed judges when she performed an opera song during the talent portion of the competition. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Franklin said that she wanted to promote diversity, especially within the arts.
"I just want to thank God for this, it took a lot of perseverance to get here," she said shortly after winning, also thanking her family and especially her father, who is a survivor of cancer.
For the first time in its nearly 100-year history, the revamped Miss America pageant took place tonight sans its iconic swimsuit and evening gown competitions.
Instead, the emphasis was on the contestants' ability to answer questions and they were judged based on their passion, intelligence and overall understanding of the role of Miss America.
The competition was hosted by "Dancing With the Stars" judge Carrie Ann Inaba and broadcast live from the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
The tone of the competition was noticeably different from years past, with the opening sequence featuring the competitors clad in jeans and even a few sweatpants, and saying adjectives such as "strong," "confident" and "compassionate."
While the evening gown portion of the competition was axed this year, most of the contestants still donned glittering gowns during a majority of the competition.
The Miss America Organization has courted controversy in recent months.
Cara Mund, who was crowned last year while competing as Miss North Dakota, accused Miss America leadership of silencing and bullying her after she was crowned.
Mund made a special appearance during this year's pageant and shared a special message, though she did not acknowledge her previous allegations of silencing and bullying.
In a letter to past winners, published earlier this year, however, Mund wrote: "Our chair and CEO have systematically silenced me, reduced me, marginalized me and essentially erased me in my role as Miss America in subtle and not-so-subtle ways on a daily basis."
Gretchen Carlson, the first former Miss America to be named chair of the Board of Trustees of the Miss America Organization, responded to Mund on Twitter, saying that she has "never" bullied or silenced her and will "continue to support her."
In December, former CEO Sam Haskell resigned after emails in which he insulted the appearance, intellect and personal lives of former pageant winners were leaked.
ABC News' Julia Jacobo, Katie Kindelan, Michael Rothman and Catherine Thorbecke contributed to this report.