12:22 PM

ReShonda Tate Talks First Black Oscar Winner Hattie McDaniel at President’s Lecture Series


By Hayden Bergman

The 2015 online social justice campaign #OscarsSoWhite was an important moment for the Academy Awards, as it emphasized flaws and biases in the motion picture industry and challenged existing power structures. Before that, though, there was another Oscars moment that was just as important and impactful, if not more so, for the simple fact that it was a first.  

On Feb. 29, 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person to win an Oscar, taking home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (the Academy still distinguishes between actors and actresses to this day). This achievement, along with all that led up to it and followed, are the subject of ReShonda Tate’s book "The Queen of Sugar Hill: A Novel of Hattie McDaniel.”    

In honor of Black History Month, Tate was on campus for the 16th installment of UHD’s President’s Lecture Series to discuss her book and deliver a lecture on McDaniel titled “The Oscars and a Hidden History: Hollywood Legend Hattie McDaniel.” UHD President Loren J. Blanchard and Vice President of Advancement and University Relations Javier “Jay” L. Zambrano provided opening remarks, while Debra McGaughey, Assistant Vice President of University Relations, introduced Tate. 

In addition to educating attendees about McDaniel’s career in entertainment, Tate provided historical context. During her research, for example, she discovered that there was much debate about McDaniel’s portrayal of such roles as Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.” Many white people thought her performance was too sassy, said Tate, while many Black Americans viewed it as degrading, to the point where even the NAACP spoke out against her. 

When asked how we should view her now, Tate said that McDaniel is a model of “a quiet warrior,” someone who didn’t rattle many proverbial cages or speak out often in the press, but nonetheless accomplished much, both for herself and her community. 

You can watch the full lecture on the Fox 26 website


ReShonda Tate is the national bestselling author of more than 50 books. She writes both adult and teen fiction, as well as nonfiction. Her sophomore novel, “Let the Church Say Amen,” was made into a film directed by actress Regina King. 

A well-respected journalist for more than two decades, Tate has worked as a television reporter and anchor for stations in Oklahoma City, Beaumont, and Houston. She is also Managing Editor for the Houston Defender Newspaper, as well as a Communications Consultant for Texas Southern University.  

A graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, Tate holds an Honorary Doctorate and is a member of the Missouri City–Sugar Land Chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Jack & Jill of America. She is married to Jeffrey Caradine and is the mother of three children ages 23, 21, and 16, and two bonus children, ages 24 and 23. Visit her website at www.ReShondaTate.com


About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.