Actor Fay Bainter, right, appears with actor Hattie McDaniel the night McDaniel won best supporting actress for her role in the 1939 film “Gone With the Wind” in Los Angeles on Feb. 29, 1940. McDaniel received a plaque, not an Oscar statuette, as was the custom for supporting actor winners of that era. Associated Press, file

In a moment decades in the making, representatives from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Sunday night presented Howard University with a replacement Oscar for Hattie McDaniel’s 1940 best supporting actress award.

The Oscar, for McDaniel’s performance as “Mammy” in the 1939 big-screen epic “Gone With the Wind,” was the first awarded to a Black actor. As a nod to the significance of that award, McDaniel bequeathed her Oscar to the university before her death in 1952.

Actress and Howard graduate Phylicia Rashad, the dean of the university’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, opened Sunday’s ceremony at Howard’s Cramton Auditorium by recalling how when she was a student at the university, McDaniel’s award was prominently displayed.

Later, in the 1960s or 1970s, the Oscar mysteriously vanished.

“For a young aspiring artist, a student, a would-be actress, being able to see that every day was an affirmation,” said Rashad, who is best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”

“It also was a presence,” Rashad said. “It was as if she was there with us.”


Rashad — who accepted the replacement Oscar along with Howard President Ben Vinson III and Kevin John Goff, McDaniel’s great-grandnephew — called the event not only a celebration of McDaniel’s life but a sign of “the power of intention.”

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A young man reads on the Howard University campus in 2021, in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

“It was Hattie McDaniel’s intention that her Oscar should be placed here at Howard University in the College of Fine Arts in perpetuity,” Rashad said.

Rumors have swirled for decades about the Oscar’s disappearance, with some arguing the award was misplaced. Others think it was taken from the campus as part of the student unrest in the 1960s.

“We don’t know who did that,” Rashad said. “We don’t know why.”

As Jacqueline Stewart, director and president of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, said Sunday night, McDaniel’s career spread well beyond her most iconic film role.

The youngest of 13 children born to parents who had been enslaved, the actress worked both onstage and in films; was one of the first Black women to sing on the radio in the United States; and eventually was celebrated with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a U.S. Postal Service stamp.


McDaniel herself called her Oscar win “one of the happiest moments of my life,” in her acceptance speech.

“It has made me feel very, very humble and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future,” she continued. “I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel.”

The moment, however, was freighted with a mixed bag of emotions for both the actress and other Black Americans.

On the night of the ceremony – Feb. 29, 1940 – the nightclub hosting the award banquet would not allow the actress to sit at the same table as her White co-stars.

Black newspapers and political figures criticized McDaniel’s on-screen role for embracing a racial stereotype. Others attacked the film for presenting a romanticized picture of the antebellum South. The Black newspaper the Chicago Defender blasted the film as a “weapon of terror against Black America.”

And despite the ceiling McDaniel shattered with her Oscar win, the award did not immediately trigger similar accolades for other Black actors.


It wasn’t until 1964 that Sidney Poitier would be the next African American to win another competitive Oscar. A Black woman would not win another Oscar until Whoopi Goldberg’s 1990 best supporting actress win for “Ghost.”

As Stewart pointed out Sunday night, Hollywood continues to struggle with equal racial representation in film.

“We are still on that long road,” she said. “Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar win is a crucial stop for us to pause and look back to reflect on where we have been and where we are seeking to go.”

Filling many of the seats on Sunday night were women wearing gold blazers – members of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority. McDaniel was a founding member of the sorority’s Los Angeles chapter in 1939.

LaTasha Gross, a Sigma Gamma Rho member, said she came out Sunday to support McDaniel.

“This is a fantastic moment for her to finally get her due,” Gross said.

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