On January 29, 1954, Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, MS. Armed with a proactive and indomitable spirit, she grew up to become one of the most influential and richest people in the world. Influenced by her tough childhood, today she is a champion for children and is considered to be one of the most important African-American philanthropists.
As a teenager in a small farming community, she was sexually abused by multiple men, including relatives and friends of her mother, Vernita. To escape her abusive home life in Mississippi, she moved to Nashville to live with her father, Vernon. Oprah entered Tennessee State University in 1971 and began working in radio and television broadcasting in Nashville.
In 1976, Oprah moved to Baltimore, MD, where she hosted her first TV talk show, People Are Talking. However, Oprah’s big break came in 1984 when she was recruited to move to Chicago and take over a poorly-rated local morning talk program, “A.M. Chicago.” She turned the show into a ratings winner, even beating out the competition, “The Phil Donahue Show.”
After she signed a syndication deal with ABC, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was broadcast nationally on September 8, 1986. The first episode to air nationally, “How To Marry The Man/Woman of Your Choice,” ushered in a new voyeuristic form of popular entertainment. TV viewers watched ordinary people and celebrities share their personal struggles and get expert advice from therapists and doctors. Oprah reinforced the show’s confessional tone by sharing her ongoing weight struggles and her experiences as a victim of sexual abuse when she was a child.
A clever businesswoman, in 1988 she gained ownership of the program from ABC, putting it under the control of her new production company, Harpo Productions. By 2008, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” had an estimated weekly audience of 46 million, in the United States alone, and was broadcast to 134 countries across the globe. If Oprah recommended a product on her show, it was guaranteed to become a bestseller. After airing for 25 seasons, the show ended in 2011. A few months later, Winfrey launched her TV network, OWN.
From TV, film, radio, and magazines to fighting for children’s rights, Oprah has done it all. As a result, she is the richest African-American in North American and is considered the most philanthropic African-American in U.S. history. In November 2013, Oprah received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for her many contributions to the United States.
In January 2018, Oprah received the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 75th annual Golden Globes. Oprah began her speech by poignantly describing her experience as a little girl watching Sidney Poitier receive an honor at the same awards show. After expressing the challenges that women and minorities still face in the United States, Oprah concluded with inspiring words that had many buzzing about her potential presidential bid for 2020: “So I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, ‘Me too’ again.”
Oprah, thank you. And happy 64th birthday!