First Black Oscar Winner's Speech: Hattie McDaniel Thanks Academy for Its "Kindness"

Hattie McDaniel
AP Images

McDaniel is the first African-American to ever win an Academy Award. In 1940, she won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. 24 years later, Sidney Poitier became the first African-American male to win in an acting category when he won best actor for his leading part in Lilies of the Field.

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"I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry."

Hattie McDaniel was named best supporting actress at the 12th Academy Awards in 1940, making history by being the first black actor to win — or be nominated — for an Oscar.

Wearing a turquoise, rhinestone-studded gown with a gardenia floral arrangement flowing down her right side and another gardenia in her hair, the 44-year-old actress accepted her gold statuette at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel 75 years ago.

Since her attendance at the "no blacks" hotel alongside her escort and agent seven decades ago (a special call had to be made for Hattie to be allowed on the premises), McDaniel's win paved the way for 13 fellow black male and female actors to win Oscars: Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding Jr., Louis Gossett Jr., Forest Whitaker, Sidney Poitier, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Octavia Spencer, Mo'Nique and Lupita Nyong'o.

McDaniel's acting career included 74 maid roles before she died of breast cancer at the age of 57. 

McDaniel, who won for her portrayal of Mammy in Victor Fleming's Gone With the Wind, wiped away tears as she gave her momentous speech, thanking the Academy for its "kindness." 

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests, this is one of the happiest moments of my life and I want to thank each one of who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards; for your kindness that has made me feel very, very humble. And I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. 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 and may I say thank you and God bless you.