Legendarily known as the first African American to win an Academy Award, Hattie
McDaniel is an important part of Black History Month in America. Her outstanding performance
as Mammy in “Gone with The Wind” help developed her into a household name. She was an
exceptional actress during her time, opening doors for different African American actors.
Born June 10, 1893 in Wichita, Kansas, the actress was her parents 13 th child. Her father
was a Civil War veteran, her mother a domestic worker. Starting from elementary school, she
was one of two blacks at her school. Her flair for singing gained her popularity among her
classmates. It was in high school when she professionally began to sing, dance and act. She
eventually dropped out to pursue her career. McDaniel had dreams of becoming a famous
performer and in her mid 20s, she became the first African American to perform on the radio.
She moved to Los Angeles, after her brother and sister convinced her to do so to achieve
her career goals. In 1931, she was casted in her first small role as an extra in a Hollywood
musical. During this time, it was difficult for blacks to have consistent roles in Hollywood, so
McDaniel would often land small parts from time and she would have to take jobs just to make
As the years went on she would be cast in different roles. She had an on-screen role in
1934 singing with Will Rogers in John Ford’s “Judge Priest.” Her role in “The Little Colonel”
caused her to receive a lot of backlash from the black media, because she played a negative
stereotype of her race. People looked at it as “degrading” her community because she would play
roles as servants and slaves.
Not only was she the first black person to win an Academy Award, she was also the first
one nominated for such an honor. This happened even though she was unable to attend the
premiere in Atlanta, which caused a lot of controversy. There were many blacks happy for
McDaniel’s success with this film, but there were also people thinking negatively about it.
Because of the role she played, people thought it celebrated the slave system. McDaniel was not
allowed to attend one of the premiers for “Gone with the Wind.” She went on to gain further
success after this victory, and later after her death in 1952 she received stars on the Hollywood
Walk of Fame. She was also inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1975. There
have been many African American who won Oscars; however, Hattie McDaniel will always be
remembered as the first one to achieve that honor.
“I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future. I
sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry” – Hattie McDaniel