Much has been written of late about Hattie McDaniel and her part in GWTW. When she sought (yes, sought) the part as Mammy in GWTW she was chided by the NAACP as supporting another portrayal of Blacks as servants. Well Hattie went on to “make the part her own” and win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (beating my favorite, Olivia DeHavilland). Hattie was playing a part no doubt but was the story written of mammy and the slaves true?
When I began my GWTW Tour in Jonesboro 25 years ago I did it in response to the stories I found and the quote from Margaret Mitchell herself saying that the incidences in GWTW were true. I did not “go out of my way” to identify certain characters slave or free. I just continued to share the stories I found and read as much information about the area as I could, and stories began popping up of both slave and free.
To date I have identified Prissy as a real slave named Prissy (as Margaret said) and have added Pork and Big Sam. I have tied a number of the incidences around the people of color to those stated in the book and the movie. However, at present I have no found one slave that I could say was THE CHARACTER OF MAMMY! I have not found a slave named Mammy or having a large number of the incidences tied to her, but that does not mean I do not think she also was based on fact. I frankly think that Mammy is a composite, a compilation of a number of Mammy’s or Aunties that lived during the period of the 1860’s in and around the area of Margaret’s family. And while I will not give all the details in this post but save the bulk for my upcoming book about them (yes, look for it very soon), I will share the incidences that I have tied to them so far.
- The outspoken manager of the Plantation house and servants, and guardian angel and watch care provider to the children (black and white).
- Participant in the making of the dress from the curtains.
- Stood her ground against Yankees who invaded the house.
- Stirring a pot of boiling clothes worn by the ragged wounded of both armies that filled the house.
- Continued to live with her masters family (as her choice) long after the war and slavery ended.
- Risked her life to save white family and friends during the battle.
- Was a cherished member of the family before, during and after the war.
These are just a few of the tales that fill the pages of the area’s history and abound in the character of Mammy (and I have also identified Prissy, Pork, Big Sam and Uncle Peter). Hattie deserved her Oscar as she made her character the real person that she was,…characters and stories pulled right from the history of a land of cavalier and cotton fields.
You can learn more of the true stories when you take the GWTW Tour that is given daily from the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro. It is the tour I created 25 years ago and today you can hear my voice share the true stories that fill the pages of GWTW….and plan to come see me at the Tara façade while you are in town.
I’ll be looking for you up at the gate.