On this day in Black history February. 29, 1940 (leap year), Actress Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Academy Award. She won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind on this day.
After working as early as the 1910s as a band vocalist, Hattie McDaniel debuted as a maid in The Golden West (1932). Her maid-mammy characters became steadily more assertive, showing up first in Judge Priest (1934) and becoming pronounced in Alice Adams (1935). In this film she makes it clear she has little use for her employers' pretentious status seeking. In another film The Mad Miss Manton (1938) she actually tells off her socialite employer Barbara Stanwyck and her snooty friends. Something that was unheard of in those days. This path extends into the greatest role of her career, Mammy in Gone With The Wind (1939). In her role as Mammy she is, in a number of ways, superior to most of the white co stars due in part to her commonsensical approach, and forward thinking. From that point her roles unfortunately descended, with her characters becoming more and more menial. She played on the "Amos and Andy" and Eddie Cantor radio shows in the 1930s and 1940s; the title in her own radio show "Beulah" (1947-51), and the same part on TV (Beulah (1950).