Bessie Smith And Other Influential Black Stars Who Shaped Pop Culture

May 13, 2015  |  

’40s

As the second world war carried on for a large part of the decade, African Americans were accomplishing great things. Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American awarded by the Academy when she won an Oscar for her work as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. Joe Louis was the most popular heavyweight boxer during that time and was considered a national hero for his work in and outside the ring (he enlisted in the U.S. Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor). The bebop stylings of Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie focused on making jazz more of an art form than something for folks to two-step to, and Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, became the first best-seller by an African-American author. Also, Jackie Robinson made history by signing to the Dodgers, becoming the first African-American to play in the major leagues, and Alice Coachman was the first African-American woman to win Olympic gold during the 1948 Olympics in London.

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