In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to be awarded an Oscar. The controversial role that garnered the honor was that of a slave "Mammy" in the 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, "Gone with the Wind." In 1951, McDaniel willed her Oscar to Howard University, but today no one knows where it is. Theories include that Howard students took it during the 1960s Civil Rights protests. that a Howard professor took it, or that it was simply put away for safekeeping but no one knows where. Howard's archives could find no records of having actually received it. Considering probate papers, archival materials, and interviews, the article traces the path of the Oscar from McDaniel's death to its arrival at Howard and offers a theory as to the Oscar's ultimate fate. It also ties the Oscar to the story of how historical racism suppressed the ability of African Americans, and particularly the descendants of slaves, to protect wealth and to transfer it intergenerationally.
GW Paper Series
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-2, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2012-2
55 Howard Law Journal 107-171 (2011)