Little Known Black History Fact: Nannie Mayme McKinney, The Black Garbo

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During the time when only a few black actresses prevailed in Hollywood, McKinney was fed up with the search for roles and in the early1930’s, she left for Europe. She performed in Budapest, Dublin, London, and Paris – opposite Paul Robeson. McKinney appeared in “Congo Road” (1930), and “Sanders of the River” (1935). During wartime in Europe, McKinney returned to America, where she was only able to land roles in the films “Safe in Hell” (1931) and “Reckless” (1935). McKinney never appeared on the screen for either film. Her voice was, however, used in place of Jean Harlow’s in Reckless.  She married Jimmy Monroe, a jazz musician, and the two toured the country.

McKinney and Monroe lived in Athens, Greece where she came to be known as “The Queen of Night Life.”  Nina McKinney paved the way for actresses like Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne. Unfortunately, when she passed away in 1967, there was no press coverage or announcement that one of the pioneering black actresses in Hollywood had died. Her likeness is captured on a building wall in Lancaster, South Carolina as part of a “wall of fame” tribute.

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