To many people, Margaret Mitchell’s life story is as familiar as Scarlett O’Hara’s signature “fiddle-dee-dee!”
For eight years, the onetime Atlanta Journal reporter secretly wrote “Gone With the Wind” in her apartment at the corner of Peachtree and Tenth streets. Published in 1936, it sold 1 million copies in the first six months (and at least 30 million more since then), won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award and spawned a movie that won eight Oscars, including Best Picture.
Yet the pint-size (4-foot-11), lifelong Atlantan cut an equally remarkable figure in lesser-known, no less important arenas. While some have criticized “GWTW” for being racially insensitive, in real life, Mitchell became increasingly aware of and determined to help address racial inequities here. She pressed for and gave $1,000 to create the first public unit for black patients at Grady Hospital. Beginning in the early 1940s, her anonymous donations to Morehouse College helped finance the education of at least 20 black medical and dental students.
Mitchell died at 48 in 1949, five days after being struck by a car on Peachtree Street. By then, she’d written the pre-Beyonce/Taylor Swift book on controlling one’s own image and business interests. She’d officially refused any involvement in the 1939 movie, including most publicity interviews, yet slyly kept her hand in it via the network of on-set historical advisers, consultants and experts she’d help put in place.
Even before then, her publisher had given her the foreign rights to her book. Because the U.S. had long refused to join an international copyright agreement, Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh, had to spend years tracking down and stopping publication of pirated editions of “GWTW” all over the world. Their high-profile struggle was a main reason that Congress in the early 1950s finally approved joining the international copyright accord to protect the rights of American authors.