January 8

Butterfly McQueen

January 8, 1911 - Augusta, Stone Mountain

Her fame rested on one indelible performance: a slave who lacked the midwifery skills to help Melanie Hamilton.

Thelma McQueen was born in Florida in 1911. She moved to Augusta after her father abandoned the family. She studied acting, dance, and music in New York. Her nickname derived from a performance in the Butterfly Ballet in a Harlem theater group production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Butterfly McQueen was 28 when she auditioned for the role of Prissy, Scarlett O’Hara’s fussy maid, in Gone with the Wind. She would not do demeaning scenes: no watermelon, for example. She hoped the film would mean better roles. It didn’t.

She spent years typecast as maids and servants. In the 1960s, she worked briefly at Stone Mountain Park, greeting visitors. In her 60s, she took her place in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame; she won an Emmy, and earned a degree in political science from City College of New York.

Butterfly McQueen, whose life grew fuller as she grew older, was born on January 8, 1911, Today in Georgia History.