Strong Rooted Volume 1: Republished
Hattie McDaniel (June 10, 1895-October 26, 1952)
I remember in High School when we were told that we had to read Gone With The Wind. I was thrown for a loop. It was not a book that I wanted to read. All I had ever heard about the book and the movie was that it was racist and depicted slavery in a glorified manner. I was ready for my “F.” I guess a lot of other students felt the same way because we ended up watching the movie over the course of two weeks in our English class. I was shocked at how much I liked the movie. I was ashamed to say it then, but I am not ashamed now. It is one of my favorite movies, and I watch it a couple of times a year from start to finish.
Hattie McDaniel was far more than the maid in Gone With The Wind. If that is how you know her, then let this piece be an eye-opening adventure for you on what she meant for and to Blacks in the Entertainment industry. Being first is not always glorious or comfortable or remembered.
McDaniel had many firsts on her resume.
• Black woman to win an Academy Award • Black woman to sing on the radio • Black Oscar winner to be honored with a postage stamp With over 350 films to her name, McDaniel was only credited with 85. Racism, bigotry, and socioeconomic stresses could not keep her down, though. A singer, actress, comedian, songwriter, McDaniel persevered, and it all paid off.
McDaniel was not political and tried to keep out of the way of all things politics. Some say it was because of her acting career and others say it was just because she had no desire to be involved. Whatever the reason, the Black community did not always understand or support her decision to remain neutral and not use her platform to better the lifestyles of Blacks who were less fortunate. In conjunction with their disapproval of her lack of support, the NAACP and other Black groups were not supportive of the roles that McDaniel’s portrayed. However, McDaniel did go to court along with a group of her neighbors to fight for their right to keep the homes that they had purchased in a then segregated section of California, and in 1947 she joined the Negro Actors Guild of America.
McDaniel was friends with many of Hollywood’s best-known actors and actresses, including Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable, and Shirley Temple.
McDaniel never had any children, and at one point in her life, that became a depressing reality. Knowing that she would not have anyone to share her life’s work with caused her to become depressed for a short period.
Husband after husband, McDaniel tried to find a companion to share her success and accomplishments with, but each time something went terribly wrong. Married for the first time at fifteen and widowed by nineteen was not easy, but she tried it again a few years later to only lose her second husband to murder. After her third attempt at marriage, McDaniel decided that being married, like having children, wasn’t in the cards for her and gave up on the possibility.
Not even in death can the color of your skin be forgotten and the content of your character stand out. McDaniel wanted to be buried at the Hollywood Cemetery, and they refused to accept her remains because she was Black.
McDaniel’s died of breast cancer on October 26, 1952, at the age of 57.
Thank you is not enough for the path that was paved by her hard work and dedication, but we say it anyway out of love and respect. Thank you.
“A woman’s gifts will make room for her.”-Hattie McDaniel.