Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel

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Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10, 1893, in Wichita, Kansas. She was her parents' 13th child. Her father, Henry, was a Civil War veteran who suffered greatly from war injuries and had a difficult time with manual labor. Her mother, Susan Holbert, was a domestic worker.

In 1901, McDaniel and her family moved to Denver, Colorado. There she attended the 24th Street Elementary School, where she was one of only two black students in her class. Her natural flair for singing—in church, at school and in her home—was apparent early on and gained her popularity among her classmates.

McDaniel started professionally singing, dancing and performing skits in shows as part of The Mighty Minstrels. In 1909, she decided to drop out of school in order to more fully focus on her fledgling career, performing with her older brother's own troupe. 

In 1911, she married pianist Howard Hickman and went on to organize an all-women's minstrel show.

In the 1920s, McDaniel worked with Professor George Morrison's orchestra and toured with his and other vaudeville troops for several years. By mid-decade, she was invited to perform on Denver's KOA radio station.

Following her radio performance, McDaniel continued to work the vaudeville circuit and established herself as a blues artist, writing her own work.

When projects weren't coming in, she took on attendant work to supplement her income. Much to her relief, in 1929 she landed a steady gig as a vocalist at Sam Pick's Suburban Inn in Milwaukee.

In 1939, McDaniel was widely seen in a film that would mark the highlight of her entertainment career. As Mammy, the house servant of Scarlett O'Hara (Vivian Leigh) in Gone With the Wind, McDaniel earned the 1940 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress—becoming the first African American to win an Oscar.

Yet all of the film's black actors, including McDaniel, were barred from attending the film's premiere in 1939, aired at the Loew's Grand Theatre on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia.  

During World War II, McDaniel helped entertain American troops and promoted the sale of war bonds, but she soon found the film offers to be drying up. She responded by making a strategic return to radio, taking over the starring role on CBS radio’s The Beulah Show in 1947.

In 1951, McDaniel started filming for the television version of The Beulah Show. Unexpectedly, she suffered a heart attack around the same time, and was forced to abandon her career upon being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Hattie McDaniel lost her battle with cancer in Los Angeles, California, on October, 1952.

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

I did my best, and God did the rest.

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