Black History Month: Celebrating Trailblazer Hattie McDaniel, The First African American Actress To Win An Oscar

by Grace Somes
Hsttie McDaniel || Image credit: @hattiemcdaniel

As we celebrate the last day of Black History Month, it is critical to remember luminaries like Hattie McDaniel, a trailblazer, pioneer, and cultural icon.

Hattie McDaniel left an undeniable legacy for her work, including two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and is recognized as the first black artist to sing on radio.

The singer-songwriter was born on June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas, and demonstrated her singing and acting abilities while growing up in Denver, Colorado. She dropped out of school as a teenager to perform in various traveling minstrel shows.

In 1924, she became one of the first African American women to sing on American radio stations.

With the start of the Great Depression, McDaniel was forced to work as a ladies’ lavatory attendant in a Milwaukee nightclub. The club, which only hired white performers, eventually made an exception and let her sing, and she stayed for a year before deciding to pursue a career in Hollywood.

Her ground-breaking achievement came in 1940 when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Mammy in the timeless classic “Gone with the Wind.”

Hattie McDaniel received the National Board of Review’s “Best Acting” award for the film In This Our Life. She was posthumously inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010, both in Denver, Colorado. On January 25, 2006, she was inducted as the 29th member of the US Postal Service’s Black Heritage Series at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California.

McDaniel’s legacy is far-reaching, in addition to her acting abilities. She was a pioneer in the entertainment industry, paving the way for future generations of Black actors and actresses. Her courage, determination, and unwavering dedication to her craft serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration for all aspiring artists.

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