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9 Significant Achievements By African Americans In The 1940s  

1. Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African-American to win an Academy Award.

Hattie McDaniels was a stage actress, professional singer-songwriter, and comedian. She is best known for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the first Academy Award won by an African American entertainer.  McDaniel’s was also a radio performer and television star; she was the first black woman to sing on radio in the United States. She appeared in over 300 films, although she received screen credits for only around 80.

2. Richard Wright publishes the novel, Native Son.

After publication, Native Son was selected by the Book of the Month Club in New York as its first book by an African-American author. Wright was criticized for his concentration on violence in his works. In the case of Native Son, people complained that he portrayed a black man in ways that seemed to confirm whites’ worst fears. However, the book became the first bestselling novel by an African-American author.

3. Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr., is appointed a general in the U.S. Army.

Davis was promoted to first lieutenant on March 30, 1905; to captain on December 24, 1915; to major (temporary) on August 5, 1917; and to lieutenant colonel (temporary) on May 1, 1918. He reverted to his permanent rank of captain on October 14, 1919, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel on July 1, 1920; to colonel on February 18, 1930; to brigadier general (temporary) on October 25, 1940. He was retired on July 31, 1941, and recalled to active duty with the rank of brigadier general the following day. With this appointment, Davis becomes the first African-American to hold the position.

4. The National Negro Opera Company is established in Pittsburgh by Mary Lucinda Dawson.

Mary Cardwell Dawson established the National Negro Opera Company (NNOC) in 1941 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1940, Cardwell Dawson began auditioning and rehearsing singers on the third floor of 7101 Apple Street, in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh.  By 1941 the performers who participated in those rehearsals were organized by Cardwell Dawson into the Nation Negro Opera Company (“NNOC”). The NNOC’s first performance was a production of Aida, held at Pittsburgh’s Syria Mosque in October 1941.

5. The Montford Point Marines are established by the U.S. Marine Corps

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established a presidential directive allowing African Americans to be recruited into the Marine Corps. African American recruits were not trained at Parris Island or San Diego but were segregated and received basic training at Montford Point, a facility at Camp Lejeune, N.C. From 1942-1949, approximately 20,000 African American recruits received training at Montford Point during World War II. The original intent was to discharge these Marines after the war, but they proved themselves just as capable as all other Marines. The first black male Marine to step foot on Montford Point was Pvt. Howard P. Perry of Charlotte, N.C. Perry was the first of 10 black recruits that arrived at Montford Point on Aug. 26, 1942.

6. The Detroit Race Riot of 1943 took place in Detroit, Michigan

From the evening of June 20 through the early morning of June 22. he rioting in Detroit began among youths at Belle Isle Park on June 20, 1943; the unrest moved into the city and was exacerbated by false rumors of racial attacks in both the black and white communities. It continued until June 22. It was suppressed after 6,000 federal troops were ordered into the city to restore peace. A total of 34 people were killed, 25 of them black and most at the hands of white police or National Guardsmen; 433 were wounded, 75 percent of them black.

7. The United Negro College Fund is Established by Frederick Douglass Patterson

Frederick Patterson organized the United Negro College Fund to provide support to historically black colleges and universities and well as its students. The United Negro College Fund, a fund-raising organization for historically black private colleges, administered programs and granted scholarships. By the year of Patterson’s death in 1988, it was providing funds for 42 member colleges and aiding some 45,000 students.

8. Ebony magazine is first published in 1945.

John H. Johnson began his career with Negro Digest in 1942, and started Ebony three years later. The magazine was developed by the Johnson Publishing Company. A pictorial news magazine which first appeared in November 1945. The publication was modeled after Life magazine, Ebony celebrated African American life and culture by depicting the achievements of black Americans.

9. Alice Coachman becomes the first African-American woman to win an Olympic Gold medal.

Alice Coachman became the first African American woman to win a gold medal in London in 1948, when she won the high jump competition. She was also the only female American athlete to win a medal of any kind at these Olympics.

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