Last night’s Emmy Awards were full of great moments, but history was really made when Viola Davis won for lead actress in a drama series—in a packed category that also contained the likes of Taraji P. Henson, Tatiana Maslany, Robin Wright, Claire Danes, and Elisabeth Moss.
Davis’ win for her work on How to Get Away With Murder wasn’t just momentous because it was her first; it was groundbreaking because it also marked the first time an African-American actress has ever won in this drama category.
Davis took to the stage with raucous applause (especially from Taraji) and delivered one of the most powerful and moving speeches of the night:
“In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white women with their arms stretch out to me over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line. That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something—the only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people…who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union—thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the television academy.”
Davis’ win will go down in the Emmy history books, where she is joined by Bill Cosby (who became the first African-American actor to win an Emmy in any category in 1966), Isabel Sanford (who was the first African-American actress to win the Emmy for best actress in a comedy series in 1981), and Robert Guillaume (who became the first African-American actor to win best actor in a comedy series in 1985).
Watch her inspiring speech below.