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.
Because of Jim Crow laws in the South, Hattie McDaniel and the other black actors in the cast of Gone With The Wind were excluded from attending the film’s premiere in Atlanta (despite the best efforts of producer David O. Selznick and star Clark Gable to change city officials’ minds).
Hattie McDaniel took some heat during her career for perpetuating the black maid stereotype. In addition to her groundbreaking Oscar win as Mammy in Gone With the Wind, McDaniel also achieved another first: she was the first black actress to star on her own radio show, playing funny housemaid Beulah, which would also be the name of the 1950s television spinoff. Although McDaniel eventually replaced Ethel Waters as Beulah on TV, she was soon forced to leave after discovering she had advanced breast cancer in 1952. It wouldn’t be until 1968’s Julia that an African-American woman would reappear in a sitcom and not play a maid.
Discrimination followed Hattie McDaniel to her grave. She had wanted to be buried with fellow actors and actresses in Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, but at the time of her death in 1952, most cemeteries were segregated. McDaniel ended up at Rosedale cemetery (now Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery). It was the first cemetery in Los Angeles to allow all races and creeds. Years later under new ownership, a plot was offered to McDaniel at Hollywood Memorial, but her family opted to keep her where she lay.