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Black History Month: See These Black Actresses Who Made History

Barack and Michelle Obama won their first Academy Award at the 92nd Oscars held on February 9, 2020. The former first family took home the award for the best feature-length documentary for “American Factory”. The award, the first for the couple, comes after the setup of their production company, Higher Ground.

“American Factory,” tells the story of what happens when a Chinese company opens an automotive glass plant at a former General Motors plant in Ohio and faces intense cultural differences and community skepticism.

Matthew Cherry’s “Hair Love” was also awarded for Best Animated Short Film.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Erivo who scooped two nominations in the Best Actress and Best Original Song categories for the February 9 event failed to win any. With a Tony, Grammy and Emmy award already to her name, the 33-year-old would have become the youngest actor to win all four awards (EGOT) if she had picked an award.

That, notwithstanding, for the purpose of BLACK HISTORY month, we look at some of the black actresses that made history.

Hattie McDaniel

Born in 1893 to two former slaves, McDaniel grew up in poverty and followed her brothers onto the stage, making fun of stereotypes by performing in whiteface.

In 1931, she moved to Los Angeles where she began uncredited film roles as maids and slaves; roles that were shunned by black actors at the time.

McDaniel was the first African American woman to receive an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her 1940 role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind.

Though the award was a historic moment for her, the 46-year-old’s career took a not too impressive turn right after.

“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.”

Those were excerpts of the speech delivered by Hattie McDaniel when she received the Oscar.

Ethel Waters

Waters was said to be a vibrant and versatile performer, who earned her fame in Harlem nightclubs, on the Broadway stage and Hollywood films.

It was said Waters was ubiquitous with audiences that at the height of her career she earned more money than any other woman on Broadway.

In 1962, she became the first black actress to be nominated for an Emmy.

 Cicely Tyson


Tyson is an American actress and former fashion model. In a career spanning more than seven decades, she became known for her portrayal of strong African-American women.

Tyson is the first African American actress to receive an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie for her performance in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974).

She is also the oldest actress to win a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress (2013) for her role in the play The Trip to Bountiful.

Dorothy Dandridge

She stood up for her rights and she would not perform or act in a movie if they would not give her equal rights.

Dandridge was the first black actress nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in the 1954 film Carmen Jones.

She was also the first black woman on the cover of Life magazine and is still one of the world’s most celebrated beauties.

Diahann Carroll

She is the first black actress to star in her own TV series, Julia, in 1968. This was one of the first non-domestic roles for black actresses, leading to her 1968 Golden Globe win and a 1969 Emmy nomination.

She died on October 4, 2019, after a battle with breast cancer.


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