Growing up Oprah’s life was not easy. She was born on January 29, 1954 in Mississippi to Vernita Lee who was just 18 at the time and Vernon Winfrey who was only 20. They separated soon after and was left in the care of her maternal grandmother Hattie Mae Lee on the farm. Her name was supposed to be Orpah Winfrey, from the bible, but because of the difficulty spelling and pronouncing the name she quickly became known as Oprah Winfrey.
Her grandmother was very strict with Winfrey and expected her to grow up quickly. At two she learned to read and was addressing the church congregation. After writing a note to her teacher on the first day of school saying she belonged in the first grade, she skipped kindergarten and entered third grade the year after that. However, it seemed as though Winfrey was never able to fully live up to her grandmother’s expectations, and when she did something deemed as wrong her grandmother would beat her. When asked about this time, Oprah recalls one particular time when she was playing in the well water with her fingers and her grandmother had seen her. Oprah recounts, “She whipped me so badly that I had welts on my back and the welts would bleed. And then when I put on my Sunday dress, I was bleeding from the welts. And then she was very upset with me because I got blood on the dress… so I got another whipping for getting blood on the dress.”
acting out skipping school, dating boys, stealing money from her mother, and even running away. Vernita, who was struggling to handle herself, could not handle her rebellious teenager and sent her away to her father’s house in Nashville.
Her father, similarly to her grandmother, was a strict man who gave Oprah the rules of the house that she was not to disobey. Oprah remembers, “My father ... said to me as I'm standing in the kitchen listening to him, 'These are the rules of the house, you're going to obey the rules, you have a 10 o'clock curfew, and I would rather see a daughter of mine floating down the Cumberland River … than to bring shame on this family and the indecency of an illegitimate child.' " Little did he know, she was already pregnant. She was able to hide the child both at school from her classmates and teachers and also her father. This allowed her to continue to excel in the classroom. If her secret was found out she says, she “wouldn’t have been able to be head of student council, … speaking champion in forensics, … or chosen as one of the two teenagers in the state of Tennessee to go to the White House conference on youth.” If her secret was out she believes that the entire trajectory of her life would have been different.
The same day, she told her father about the child she went into early labor. She delivered a baby boy but he died two weeks later. While this was painful, she took this as a second chance at life. She got a second opportunity to talk hold of her future and pave a path that she would look back and be proud of.
Shortly after she read the autobiography of Maya Angelou titled, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Oprah credits this book in giving her a new meaning of life and opportunity. She says that she “had never before read a book that validated my own existence.” She refocused her efforts and began her quest in getting her life back. She focused on her education and gained a new passion for public speaking. She was hired by WVOL to do the news part-time and worked their throughout her senior year of highschool and her first two years of college. In 1970 she won a speaking competition at the local Elk’s Club which earned her a four-year college scholarship to Tennessee State University where she studied communication.
During college in Nashville she began focusing her efforts on radio and television broadcasting. She then became the youngest news anchor and first black female news anchor at WLAC-TV. She decided to move move to Baltimore where she hosted the TV chat show People Are Talking. The show became a major hit. Winfrey stayed there until she was recruited by a Chicago TV station to host her own morning show, A.M. Chicago. She quickly took her show from last place to first in the ratings even surpassing Phil Donahue who hosted the highest-rated talk show, Donahue, in Chicago.
In 1986, Oprah launched The Oprah Winfrey Show as a nationally syndicated program that ran for 25 years and had an audience of over 10 million people. She later gained ownership of the program from ABC, putting it under control of Harpo Productions, her new production company.
Throughout everything Oprah has stayed true to herself. In 1994 when talk shows were becoming more “exploitative and trashy” she vowed to keep her show clean and free of tabloid topics. Although in 2011 she chose to end her program when her contract with ABC ended many things that came from the show still continued including “Oprah’s favorite Things” where she explained her top gifts for the holiday season “Oprah’s Book Club” which helped propel unknown authors to the best seller lists and gave pleasure reading a new stage. In 2011 she started her own network the Oprah Winfrey Network, more popularly called OWN.
largely revolves around causes for education and programs for women and children including funding battered women’s shelters, campaigns to catch child abusers, and schools like Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.
Oprah serves as a role model to girls all across the world showing them that no matter where they come from or circumstances they may face in life there is always a path forward as long as you keep pushing and remember who you are and what is important to you.