Oprah Gail Winfrey: North America’s only Black Billionaire (2015)

Oprah Gail Winfrey: North America’s only Black Billionaire (2015)

Oprah Gail Winfrey (born January 29, 1954) is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Winfrey is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. Dubbed the “Queen of All Media”,she has been ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century, the greatest black philanthropist in American history, and is currently (2015) North America’s only black billionaire. Several assessments regard her as the most influential woman in the world. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and honorary doctorate degrees from Duke and Harvard

While Winfrey has been cited as the richest African American of the 20th century, she does not come from a rich, or even middle class, family. She was born in an economically troubled neighborhood and raised by a single-teenaged mother in the city of Milwaukee. Orpah, named after a biblical character, had a name no one could pronounce, so her family and friends starting calling her Oprah. Shortly after Oprah’s birth, Vernita Lee left her daughter and traveled north.

Oprah Winfrey living through hell’ during her childhood 

Oprah at 2 years old

Oprah was then raised by her grandmother,Hatti Mae Lee. Oprah while being raised by her grandmother lived in terrible conditions. Oprah’s only friends were farm animals,however even at that age Oprah had a very imaginative mind. Oprah would frequently give the animals dramatic parts and included them in games. This was perhaps where she had gotten the craze for acting, and would soon be seen in legendary masterpieces such as The Color Purple.  Hattie Mae Lee encouraged Oprah’s love of books by teaching how to read at the age of 3. Oprah started by reading the Bible and at a young age and eventually began speaking at her church. Oprah moved on to performing memorized verses to her grandmother’s friends. Soon the church, and the entire neighborhood knew she had a gift and was nicknamed,”The Little Speaker”. This would soon prompt her to become a woman with a strong perspective, which millions across the world would want to have insight on. This prepared her for The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Oprah started kindergarten at 5 already knowing how to read and write — she was quickly moved into the first grade.

At 6, Oprah’s grandmother became ill and she was sent to live with her mother, Vernita Lee, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There she lived with her mother and half-sister, Patricia, in a boardinghouse. Oprah’s mother worked as a maid cleaning houses, but at times had to rely of welfare to support the family. She had little time at home with her children, but when she was able to be there, spent most of her time with Patricia. Oprah due to her busy mother was paid little attention to at home, this is what prompted Oprah to started misbehaving and talking back to her mother. Vernita Lee then decided it was best Oprah live with her father in Nashville Tennessee after living with her for just over a year.

Vernon, Oprah’s father and step-mother, Zelma, in Nashville were not able to have children and were happy for Oprah to live with them. At 7, Oprah experienced having her own bedroom and bed for the first time.

Oprah began Wharton Elementary School and was skipped a grade for the second time and was place in the third grade class. She was thrilled that her parents took her to the library and placed a value on her education. Once in Nashville, Oprah attended church regularly with her parents and began speaking publicly once again.

After her third grade year ended, Oprah’s father took her back to Milwaukee for a visit with her mother. In the time that Oprah had been in Nashville, Vernita had another child, a boy, named Jeffrey,who died of AIDS-related causes in 1989.  Oprah’s family lived in a 2 bedroom apartment, and she shared a room with her siblings. Vernon returned in the fall to take Oprah back to Nashville, but she chose to stay with her mother, and began the fourth grade in Milwaukee. In her mother’s absence, Oprah turned to the television for company, and had her first thought of being famous one day.

At 9 and living in Milwaukee, Oprah and her siblings were left with their cousin to watch them, who was 19 at the time. She was raped by her nineteen year old cousin who was baby sitting her. This wouldn’t be the only time she was sexually abused she would then be sexually abused by her cousin, a family friend,her mother’s boyfriend, and her uncle during her stay in Milwaukee. Toward all these incidents, she never told a soul because the predators swore her to silence. The molestation was first claimed to her viewers on a 1986 episode of her TV show, when sexual abuse was being discussed. When Oprah discussed the alleged abuse with family members at age 24, they refused to accept what she said. Oprah once commented that she had chosen not to be a mother because she had not been mothered well.


At the age of 13, while attending Lincoln Middle School in downtown Milwaukee, a teacher, Gene Abrams, took notice of Oprah’s love of books and helped her transfer to Nicolet High School — an all white school in Glendale, Wisconsin,where she says her poverty was constantly rubbed in her face as she rode the bus to school with fellow African-Americans, some of whom were servants of her classmates’ families.  At Nicolet, Oprah was the only African-American student, but was later quoted as saying, “In 1968 it was real hip to know a black person, so I was very popular.”

Without receiving much direction from her mother, and unable to discuss her sexual abuse, Oprah resorted to acting out — skipping school, dating, stealing money from her mother, and running away. Vernita could not handle Oprah’s behavior any longer and sent her back to live with her father in Nashville.

At 14, Oprah discovered she was pregnant, though she hid this news from her parents until she was in her 7th month. The day she told her father the news of her pregnancy, she went into early labor and delivered her baby that day — a boy, who died within 2 weeks of his birth. Oprah took the death of her son as she was given a second chance in life. Oprah’s mother sent her to live once again with her father in Nashville,Tennessee. Vernon was strict but encouraging, and made her education a priority.  

At 16, Oprah first read the autobiography of Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – and was later quoted as saying, “I read it over and over, I had never before read a book that validated my own existence.” Dr. Angelou  would later become a very close friend of Oprah’s. She began to get her life back on track, concentrating on her education and public speaking. Oprah’s talent would start to take her places, when in 1970 she won an Elk’s Club speaking competition, earning a 4 year college scholarship as the prize.

Oprah became an honors student , was voted Most popular Girl, and joined her high school speech team at East Nashville High School, placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretation. She won an oratory contest, which secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically black institution, where she studied communication. Her first job as a teenager was working at a local grocery store. Oprah during high-school wasn’t precisely certain toward what she wanted to do, however she knew it was something with speaking or drama. Oprah was also elected school president and met with president Richard Nixon being apart of public speaking classes in her high-school.

In 1971, Oprah was chosen to attend the White House Conference on Youth in Colorado and represent Tennessee with one other student.  At age, 17, Oprah won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. Oprah during the last year of high-school was rehearsing with her drama class when a local radio station, WVOL spotted her and asked her if she would like to read on radio. Oprah was then given a job reading the news on the radio. Oprah soon entered into a public speaking contest where the grand prize was a scholarship to Tennessee State University. Oprah won the contest and received a scholarship to Tennessee State University where she majored in Speech Communications and Performing Arts.

Oprah Winfrey's Hair Evolution

Oprah wanted to find work outside of Nashville Tennessee and was soon offered a job in Baltimore,Maryland. The job offer came up a few months before her graduation, she had to choose between the job and graduating, so she decided to choose the job in Maryland as the offer was very tempting. At the job in Maryland she wasn’t a very good reporter and was shortly fired. Oprah’s boss set her up as a talk show host on a morning talk show called, “People Are Talking”. Immediately after the first show Oprah new this is what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Oprah strengthened the talk show for seven years and then she decided it was time to move on.


Oprah’s career choice in media would not have surprised her grandmother, who once said that ever since Oprah could talk, she was on stage. As a child she played games interviewing her corncob doll and the crows on the fence on her family’s property. Oprah later acknowledged her grandmother’s influence, saying it was Hattie Mae who had encouraged her to speak in public and “gave me a positive sense of myself”.

In 1981 Oprah sent recorded tapes of the show to a talk-show in Chicago called A.M. Chicago. They immediately offered her the job and in September of 1985 she changed the name of the show to, “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. The first broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show was on September,8,1986 it broadcast nationally. The Oprah Winfrey show first targeted woman, however soon due to controversial topics and intriguing topics Oprah brought on to the show it appealed to people of all genders,ethnics,and ages. Oprah promoted many things on her show such as books, movie releases all of which people were eager to know what her opinions were of them. Oprah helped broaden not just woman’s point of view and significance but Oprah helped to realize that every human has an importance in this world. From it’s first broadcast The Oprah Winfrey show went on to receive multiple Day Time Emmy Awards and several other prestigious awards.Winfrey expanded the Oprah Winfrey show and started releasing a monthly magazine which was called, O:The Oprah Magazine. The first issue was in 2000. The series finale of the Oprah Winfrey Show as on it’s twenty-fifth season and it aired on May,25,2011. Concluding a segment of her career toward which she used as a device to inspire millions and help thousands to lead a better life.

Oprah’s made her debut as a film actress in the 1985 period drama film, The Color Purple. Oprah played a troubled housewife named, Sofia. Oprah was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. This movie went on to become a Broadway musical adaptation. In 1998 Oprah starred in the movie, Beloved which she also produced. Oprah played the character Sethe who was a former slave. Oprah has also acted in several movies such as Charlotte’s Web,Bee Movie,and The Princess And The Frog.

Oprah Winfrey in 1998 received an Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 2011 Oprah Winfrey received a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences.

Oprah Winfrey will forever be remembered as an innovator through the landmarks she made, becoming the first African American to host a television show. Inspiring millions of people across the world, discussing significant issues on her show such as equal rights toward genders,racism,poverty, and many others. Oprah will be seen as an icon someone who paved the way for others to become successful.












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