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Strong Rooted Volume I: Issue 4-Nina Mae McKinney May 18, 2017 (Republished)

We must know where we come from in order to get to where we want to go. Never forget your roots.

Nina Mae McKinney was born Nannie Mayme McKinney in Lancaster, South Carolina, and would become one of the first Black leading actresses in Hollywood. From the very first time that she graced the silver screen in 1928, McKinney’s talent and beauty shone brighter than the rest. Mckinney left school at a very early age to pursue her acting career, and it paid off. McKinney would become one of the first Black women to have a contract with the MGM Grand, but the studio was not portraying Black women in a positive light, so she refused several roles and moved to Europe.

It was in Europe that McKinney was nicknamed the Black Garbo. Unlike the real Garbo, though, McKinney would continue to struggle to get acceptable roles to establish her as an actress. One part, in particular, stands out in her career. McKinney and Paul Robeson signed onto a film that was supposed to shed some positive light on Africa and African people. Still, upon the movie’s release, the producers and directors re-edited it, and the version that was released for theatrical viewing was not the version that either McKinney or Robeson had signed on for.

McKinney would eventually come back to the United States and make films, but she would never have the same star power as her White colleagues. McKinney died in New York in 1967 of a heart attack.

We have the power now to make a difference. What will we do with it? Black filmmakers own studios—Black Billionaire’s own their own television networks and magazines. Black directors are being given 100 million dollar budgets. Black writers own a night of network television with a lineup that makes the world pause and takes notice. What will we do with that power?

References: Nina Mae McKinney with Eubie Blake and his Orchestra 1932. (2009, February 25). Retrieved January 05, 2021, from

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