The Mystery of Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar: It Has Been Missing From Howard University for Nearly 40 Years

In 1940 Hattie McDaniel won the Academy Award as best supporting actress for her portrayal of Mammy in the classic film Gone With the Wind. McDaniel died in 1952 from breast cancer. She bequeathed the award to the Howard University drama department. The Oscar, which in those days was a plaque, not the familiar statuette of today, was displayed in a glass-enclosed case on the Howard campus.

But in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the Oscar disappeared and its whereabouts remain unknown. There are a number of theories on what happened to the plaque. One legend states that black power protesters threw the plaque into the Potomac River to protest McDaniel’s portrayal as a stereotypical black servant. Some believe that a faculty member at Howard confiscated the plaque. But there has been no trace of the award for almost 40 years.

The artifact, one of the more significant pieces of African-American film history, has been valued at more than $500,000.