By Frederick H. Lowe
HBO Max recently announced that it stopped showing “Gone With the Wind” because the academy awarding winning film, which is set in the antebellum South, the Civil War and Reconstruction, glosses over the brutality and mental cruelty of slavery.
Recently in Bristol, England, Black Lives Matters protesters pulled down the statue of Edward Colston, the 17th century’s leading slave trader, who used a red-hot poker to brand captured slaves with the letters RAC for his Royal African Company.
The 1940 film won eight Academy Awards, including best picture. It also won an Oscar for Hattie McDaniel for best supporting actress. McDaniel was the first African American to win an Oscar.
The film “Gone With the Wind” is based on the successful 1936 novel of the same name by author Margaret
Mitchell, who became extremely wealthy after its first printing. The novel sold 1 million copies its first year. It was also awarded the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
This is where it gets complicated.
Mitchell also is credited with donating funds to Morehouse College, an Atlanta-based school for black men, so a number of students could attend medical school there.
Benjamin E. Mays, who became president of financially strapped Morehouse College, in 1940 after earning his Ph.D. in religion from the University of Chicago, put together a strategy to save Morehouse, which was founded in 1867.
He sought financial donations from wealthy black and white Atlanta residents. With the book’s and movie’s success, Mitchell became even more wealthy and prominent in Atlanta.
In late 1941, Mays wrote a letter to Mitchell requesting financial support for Morehouse College. On June 29, 1942, Mitchell enclosed an $80 check in a letter to Mays. The check amount supported one student for one year.
In the letter, she wrote that the money was for “some fine deserving student.” Mitchell noted that she could not guarantee annual donation because of World War 2.
Mitchell also said she wanted to keep her donation private, fearing that the white residents of Atlanta would become upset is they learned she was helping a black college, according to the paper “Reaching Across the Color Line: Margaret Mitchell and Benjamin Mays, an Uncommon Friendship,” published by Georgia State University
Over the next three years, Mitchell continued to donate to Morehouse.
The war years led to an explosion of growth in Atlanta, exposing the woefully inadequate health care for the city’s growing black population. Blacks comprised 35 percent of Atlanta’s population, but only had access to 391 hospital beds. There was only one black doctor for every 3,074 black residents.
Illness among blacks and the inability to secure adequate health care touched Mitchell personally when Carrie Holbrook, Mitchell’s black laundress, was diagnosed with cancer. .
Mitchell searched to find a hospital where Holbrook could spend her last days. After receiving a donation from Mitchell, Our Lady of Perpetual Help admitted Holbrook who died there three days after being admitted.
Morehouse operated a medical school and a dental school, and in a letter dated October 23, 1946, Mitchell pledged a $2,000 scholarship for deserving medical and dental students to Mays and Morehouse College.
“We are poorer in Negro doctors, and I am sure, than almost any other state. Therefore, I would definitely prefer that any boys who avail themselves of this money should practice in Georgia or at least give Georgia a trial of a year or so….” Mitchell wrote in a letter to Mays, dated October 23, 1946.
Deserving students had to be good character and agree to practice medicine in Georgia. Mitchell also requested her donations remain anonymous.
In 1951, Mitchell donated another $3,000 to Morehouse.
In 2002, Eugene Mitchell, Margaret Mitchell’s nephew, donated $1.5 million to Morehouse, establishing the Margaret Mitchell Chair in the division of humanities and social sciences.
An off-duty taxi driver ran into Mitchell as she walked across Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta, killing her on August 16, 1949. She was 48.