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The Academy is replacing Hattie McDaniel's Oscar that has been missing for 50 years

Actress Hattie McDaniel, left, appears with actress Fay Bainter, right, the night McDaniel won best supporting actress for her role in the 1939 film <em>Gone With the Wind</em> in Los Angeles on Feb. 29, 1940. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has created a replacement of McDaniel's Academy Award plaque that it is gifting to Howard University.
AP
Actress Hattie McDaniel, left, appears with actress Fay Bainter, right, the night McDaniel won best supporting actress for her role in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind in Los Angeles on Feb. 29, 1940. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has created a replacement of McDaniel's Academy Award plaque that it is gifting to Howard University.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is sending Howard University a replacement Oscar for the groundbreaking actress Hattie McDaniel, whose original award has been missing for at least 50 years.

McDaniel was the first Black person to be nominated for and win an Oscar for her supporting role as Mammy in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind.

She went on to act in more than 300 movies, and shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1952, she asked that the Oscar be moved from her home to Howard University in Washington.

But the plaque, which preceded the gold statuettes and was given to supporting winners from 1936 to 1942, suddenly disappeared from the school's fine arts building.

"Hattie McDaniel was a groundbreaking artist who changed the course of cinema and impacted generations of performers who followed her," Academy Museum Director Jacqueline Stewart and Academy CEO Bill Kramer said in a Tuesday statement. "We are thrilled to present a replacement of Hattie McDaniel's Academy Award to Howard University."

Thomas Battle, the former director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard, told NPR in 2009 that he believes the award went missing in the late 1960s or early 1970s, possibly during a period of student unrest.

"But unfortunately all of the principals who would have been involved at the university at that time — administrators and others — are no longer with us, and we have not been able to get the kind of direct information that we would like to be able to pursue this investigation further."

Denise Randle, who tracked the university's inventory of artifacts beginning in 1972, first said she thought it was thrown away. Then, she thought it must have been misplaced. Actress Karla Burns, who portrayed McDaniel in the one-woman show Hi-Hat, thought the plaque was stolen.

Nevertheless, the new, gifted plaque will be housed in Howard's Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts and be accompanied by a ceremony on Oct. 1, titled "Hattie's Come Home," honoring McDaniel's life and career.

"When I was a student in the College of Fine Arts at Howard University, in what was then called the Department of Drama, I would often sit and gaze in wonder at the Academy Award that had been presented to Ms. Hattie McDaniel," said Phylicia Rashad, the dean of the fine arts school and a Tony Award-winning actress. "I am overjoyed that this Academy Award is returning to what is now the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie