News & Politics

Hattie McDaniel’s Historic Oscar Went Missing. Howard University Will Soon Get a Replacement.

The Academy Award disappeared from the drama department in the late 1960s.

A reproduction of the original plaque of Hattie McDaniels Academy Award. Photograph by Owen Kolasinski.

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black actor to win an Oscar. However, her award disappeared from its place in Howard University’s drama department more than 50 years ago. Now the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Academy Museum of Motion Pictures are gifting Howard University with a replacement, the university announced Tuesday. In conjunction with the gift, Howard will host a “Hattie’s Come Home” ceremony in the university’s theater on October 1.

McDaniel earned the Academy Award for her supporting role as Mammy in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind. Despite her historic accomplishment, McDaniel and her guests were forced to celebrate the achievement while sitting separately from her costars because the ceremony was held at a segregated venue. Like any thespian who won best supporting actor between 1936 to 1942, McDaniel’s award came in the form of a plaque rather than the contemporary statuette.

When the actress passed away in 1952, she bequeathed the Academy Award to Howard, where it was put on display in the drama department for more than a decade. According to CBS News, the plaque went missing at some point after the late 1960s. Its location remains a mystery.

The new plaque is an effort to replace what has been lost. In a statement, Phylicia Rashad, dean of Howard’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, reflected on what the gift means to the community: “This immense piece of history will be back in the College of Fine Arts for our students to draw inspiration from. Ms. Hattie is coming home!”

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.