Black History Month: Hattie McDaniel

Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 11:07 AM CST
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - This African-American actress and singer changed the viewership of black women on screen. She played characters that mimicked how whites saw blacks in real life. However, this star was just starting the beginning of her road down the red carpet.

This person is none other than Hattie McDaniel. She was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1895 and was the 13th child in her family. In 1901, her family moved to Denver, Colorado where she was raised. As one of the two black students that attended her elementary school, her popularity grew due to her love for singing. This happened whether it was in the church or at school.

While attending high school, she pursued her singing and acting career professionally to make a bigger name for herself. In 1910, school was no longer what she wanted to do so she dropped out and became a minstrel performer, where she later became one of the first black women to be broadcast over American radio. This was the start of her first name-based performance that molded her singer career. She continued to perform in the vaudeville circuit and established herself as a Blues artist after becoming her own writer.

In 1930, McDaniel, her brother and her sister all moved to Los Angeles where they found minor movie roles to continue to perfect their craft. In 1934, McDaniel caught her first big break by landing a major on-screen role singing a duet with Will Rogers in John Ford’s “Judge Priest”. Then in 1935, she was awarded the role of Mom Beck in “The Little Colonel,” but 1939 marked the highlight of her entertainment career. She played Mammy, the house servant to Scarlett O’ Hara in one of my favorite classics “Gone With the Wind.”

Mcdaniel earned the 1940 Academy Award for Best Supporting actress, becoming the first African American to win an Oscar. Unfortunately, McDaniel was not allowed at the premiere which aired at the Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta due to racial segregation.

Hattie McDaniel aligned herself to progress in a society that was against her. Unfortunately, she lost her battle with cancer in 1952.

After her death, the trailblazing actress was awarded two Hollywood stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1975, and was even honored with a commemorative U.S. postage stamp in 2006.