'Gone With The Wind:' New Research Reveals Black Actors Not Allowed To Attend 1939 Atlanta Premiere

Sean Mahoney

As the classic film Gone With The Wind celebrates its 75th anniversary, new research on the film has also come out, detailing the racial tension and overt racism surrounding Gone With The Wind's premiere in Atlanta in 1939.

After conducting extensive research into the archives of Gone with The Wind's producer, David O. Selznick, Emory University film studies professor Matthew Bernstein discovered racial tensions between the producer and Atlanta city officials because of how Atlanta was treating Gone With The Wind's black stars at the Dec. 15, 1939 premiere, reports AP.

"Producer David O. Selznick was upset that Hattie McDaniel would not be invited to the Atlanta premiere," said Professor Bernstein. "He argued over and over that she should be allowed."

Hattie McDaniel played Mammy in Gone With The Wind, her unforgettable performance winning her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1940. This Gone With The Wind acting achievement also established McDaniel as the first black actor to receive an Academy Award.

The mayor of Atlanta at the time, William B. Hartsfield, was the one who invited Selznick to premiere Gone With The Wind in Atlanta, but Selznick either wasn't aware, or thought he could bypass, Atlanta's racist culture of segregation laws. Those laws included prohibiting Gone With The Wind's black actors from attending the premiere and even barred them from being featured in the movie's promotional program.

"Selznick, because he was Jewish, was very mindful of the persecution of the Jews in Europe in the late-1930s under Nazism," explained Professor Bernstein. "And he saw an analogy between that persecution and the life of African-Americans under Jim Crow, especially in the South."

Gone With The Wind producer Selznick has an archive of material at the University of Texas that Professor Bernstein spent years studying. From the various documents, letters, and memos exchanged between Selznick and others, Bernstein came away with a clear picture of the Gone With The Wind producer's efforts to have his black actors included and to get Atlanta officials to change their minds.

One exchange between Selznick and his east coast assistant, Katharine Brown, gives a good idea of the racial tension involved with the Gone With The Wind premiere in Atlanta, Brown telling Selznick in a letter that his attempts to have the black cast members included had come to a negative head and should be left behind.

"I hope this will not prove to be a dissatisfaction to you but with everyone so touchy, I am trying very hard to use my very best judgment not to create situations," wrote Brown.

Strangely enough, however, Atlanta welcomed local black organizations to perform at the different events leading up to the Gone With The Wind premiere.

"One of the most fascinating things about the festivities is Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was 10-years-old, actually appeared on stage at a charity ball dressed as a slave in front of a mock-up of Tara singing with the Ebenezer Baptist Church choir," Bernstein points out.

While Gone With The Wind's Mammy, Hattie McDaniel, was welcomed to the film's Los Angeles premiere, Hollywood was by no means immune to the same type of racism showcased in 1939 Atlanta. In fact, over 10 years later, when McDaniel passed away in 1952 at age 57, racial segregation was apparently alive and well in Hollywood.

The Gone With The Wind star's final wish was for the Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood to be her final resting place. But the owners of the cemetery turned Hattie's remains away because they didn't allow blacks to be buried there. Instead, McDaniel rests in her second choice, Rosedale Cemetery; the accomplished Gone With The Wind actress suffering racism even in death.

[Images via AP and Fanpop]