On the 29th of January 1954, Oprah Winfrey was born in the rural town of Kosciusko, Mississippi. Legally her unwed parents, Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey named her Orpah. And the name is traceable to the Bible. But, almost from birth, people called her “Oprah,” due to the confusion arising from spelling and pronouncing Orpah, her original name.
Oprah’s Tough Childhood
In search of a source of livelihood, Vernita Lee, Oprah’s mother traveled alone to the north. Meanwhile, she left her daughter, Winfrey, under the care and guidance of her maternal grandmother. Therefore, Oprah spent the first six years of her life under the shelter of Hattie Mae(Presley) Lee, her strict grandmother.
In spite of the impoverished environment, Oprah learned how to read from her grandma. At that time she was about three years old. Thus, Oprah began reciting bible verses and poems in local churches.
No doubt, Oprah Winfrey got support from her grandmother and their community church. But reportedly, her grandmother abused punishment on her most of the time. And due to how poor they were, Winfrey’s grandma would make some dresses made from Potato sacks. Wearing those dresses earned laughter from others.
Anyway, at age six, Oprah moved with her mother to a ghetto-like neighborhood in the interior part of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And there, life did not get better. Instead, she experienced emotional trauma and distress arising from poverty.
Lee, her mother, at that time, was a maid, and she struggled financially. Thus raising Oprah and her half-siblings was not an easy task. As a result, Oprah Winfrey travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, to live temporarily with her daddy, Vernon Winfrey.
From her late childhood (starting from age 9) and into her early teenage period, Oprah suffered sexual abuses. Sadly, these molestations were from family and family friends, who took advantage of her vulnerability and naivety. Sadly, this ill experience continued for a couple of years until she ran away at 13.
And as fate would have it, after a couple of sexual relationships, Oprah became pregnant at 14. And pretty soon, she gave birth to a premature baby, who passed on after two weeks upon delivery.
After the death of Oprah Winfrey’s baby
Winfrey attended Lincoln high school back in the town of Milwaukee. However, soon after, she enrolled in Nicolet High school based on transfer.
But soon enough, her mother sent her back to Vernon, her father, who lived in Nashville.
Staying with her dad was like a turning point for her. Oprah gained more attention from her daddy, which she didn’t get from her mother. Vernita Lee barely had time for the family. As a housemaid, she would work herself out trying to meet the financial needs of the family,
At this point, Vernon became very strict in his parenting to Oprah. This resolution was for her good. Therefore, Vernon made his daughter’s education a priority to him. And for this reason, he placed Oprah under a stringent study rule. In other words, Vernon demanded Oprah to read a certain amount of books. She did also to provide weekly written reports of the books read to her father.
All this while, Oprah was a student at East Nashville High school, where she eventually became an excellent student. And at some point, she earned the school votes as the most popular girl in her school.
The beginning of her career path
Growing up as a young girl, Oprah engaged in extracurricular activities. She joined drama and debate clubs, amongst others.
Also, Oprah Winfrey participated in so many competitions. But her victory at Elks club speaking contest earned her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. Oprah Winfrey took speech communications and performing arts as her discipline at the varsity
And about a year later, a local station in Nashville, WVOL, crowned Oprah Miss Fire Prevention. Also, WVOL recruited Oprah Winfrey to read newscasts every afternoon. So at 17, in her “freshman year” at Tennessee, she became Miss Black Nashville and Miss Tennessee.
Interestingly, It was not long before got a job offering from the Nashville Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) affiliate. A offer she declined twice, but later accepted. And eventually, Oprah became the first African American and youngest female to anchor the evening news on WTVF-TV.
Her Career progression
In June 1976, Winfrey moved to Baltimore to work at WJZ-TV and served as a news reporter and co-anchor. But in 1977, admitting the demands of news reporting, Oprah started co-hosting the Baltimore morning show tagged People are talking.
However, In 1984, Oprah moved to Chicago, where she hosted a radio show tagged AM Chicago. And to the amazement of many, Oprah made a success out of it. Her audience loved her unique, natural, friendly, and empathetic style of presenting.
But in 1985, Oprah Winfrey Show became the new name for the show. And pretty soon, it got national syndication. Thus, this made the Oprah Winfrey Show the highest-rated television show in the United States.
However, In 1987, the Oprah Winfrey Show received three notable Daytime Emmy Awards, which marked the beginning of countless awards it received before its final broadcast on the 25th of May, 2011 (after 24 successful seasons and over 5,000 broadcasts).
In 1988, being the youngest person to have received such an iconic award, Oprah received the international radio and the television society’s “Broadcaster of the Year” award.
Aside from her career in the media and broadcasting space, Winfrey has always loved acting. And that explains how she gained the attention of Americans (and beyond) through taking the heart-rending role of Sofia in Stephen Spielberg’s production of The Color Purple, a novel written by Alice Walker.
Consumed by the desire to make quality productions in the filming and entertainment industry, Oprah established Harpo Productions, Inc., her own production company, in 1986.
Her influence on Publishing
Upon starting the on-air book club in 1996, Oprah mounted a tremendous influence in the publishing industry. Because of the large size of her audience, books selected for review found their way into the bestselling list of their genres.
And to recognize this effort, in 1999, she received the National Book Foundation’s 50th-anniversary gold medal for her service to books and authors. However, Winfrey has personally authored five books.
As the Oprah Winfrey Show kept breaking new ground through implementing new ideas to its operation, her influence also became observable in the political space.
And for the first time, in 2008, Winfrey publicly endorsed a political candidate, Barack Obama, who was vying for the seat of the presidency. That same year, she notified the public of her plan to kickstart an enterprise in the broadcasting sphere. And that gave birth to the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), on which she now hosts a nightly program entitled Oprah’s Lifeclass.
A few Important Things to Remember about Oprah Winfrey
- An American talk show host
- A television producer
- An actress
- An author
- An entrepreneur
- A media queen
- A renowned Philanthropist