Oprah Winfrey was born Orpah Gail Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Vernita Lee, a former maid, and Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner, barber, and city councilman.
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 then raised by her single, teenaged mother in the city of Milwaukee. Named after a biblical character, Orpah had a name no one could pronounce, so her family and friends starting calling her Oprah. Shortly after Oprah's birth, her mother left and traveled north. Oprah was then raised by her grandmother, Hattie Mae (Presley) Lee. She lived in terrible conditions, and her only friends were farm animals, though even at that age Oprah had a very imaginative mind. She would frequently give the animals dramatic parts and included them in games. This was perhaps where she had gotten the craze for acting, later to be seen in legendary masterpieces such as The Color Purple (1985). Due to her grandmother's values, Oprah had religion and God instilled in her at a very young age. Because of her grandmother, Oprah knew how to read and write before the age of three. She would recite poems during church, and verses from the Bible. Soon, the church and the entire neighborhood knew she had a gift and was nicknamed "The Little Speaker". This soon prompted her to become a woman with a strong perspective, which millions across the world later wanted to have insight on, and prepared her for The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986).
Due to her ability to read and write before the age of three, when enrolled in school she was often promoted several grades ahead of her age. At the age of six, Oprah went to live with her mother Vernita. Vernita worked in her maid job often, so Oprah was frequently left alone at home with her cousins. Due to her busy mother, she was paid little attention to at home, prompting her to started misbehaving and talking back to her mother. Vernita then decided it was best Oprah live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. While living in Tennessee, she found out her mother was pregnant, and her mother then requested for her to come back to Milwaukee to live with her mother and half-sister. When Oprah was nine, she was raped by her nineteen year old cousin, who was baby sitting her. This wasn't he only time she was sexually abused, later being 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. At the age of thirteen, Oprah ran away from home after her years of abuse, and at the age of fourteen became pregnant with a sick son who died shortly after birth. Oprah's mother sent her to live once again with her father in Nashville. He was very strict and made education the number-one priority for Oprah.
Oprah attended Nashville East High School, when she wasn't precisely certain toward what she wanted to do, but knew it involved speaking or drama. Oprah was also elected school president and met with president Richard Nixon, apart of public speaking classes in her high-school. During the last year of high-school, Oprah 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. She was then given a job reading the news on the radio. Oprah soon entered 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 during her college education was offered a job as a co-anchor on a CBS television station, but declined several times before she was convinced by her speech professor that it may be the ultimate step to launch her career. Oprah wanted to find work outside of Nashville, and was soon offered a job in Baltimore, Maryland. The job offer came up a few months before her graduation, and she had to choose between the job and graduating, so decided to choose the job in Maryland as the offer was very tempting. There, 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 (1978). Immediately after the first show, Oprah knew this is what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She carried the talk show for seven years and then decided it was time to move on.
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 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 and broadcast nationally. It first targeted woman, however soon due to the controversial and intriguing topics Oprah brought on to the show it appealed to people of all genders, ethnicities, and ages. Oprah promoted books and movie releases, and helped broaden the national point of view. From its first broadcast, The Oprah Winfrey Show, went on to receive multiple Daytime Emmy Awards and several other prestigious awards. Winfrey expanded the show and started releasing a monthly magazine which was called O: The Oprah Magazine in 2000. The series finale of the Oprah Winfrey Show, in its twenty-fifth season, aired on May 25, 2011, concluding a segment of her career which she used to inspire millions, and help them lead a better life.
Oprah made her debut as a film actress in the period drama film The Color Purple (1985). She played a troubled housewife named Sofia, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. This movie went on to become a Broadway musical. In 1998, Oprah starred in the film Beloved (1998), which she also produced. She played the character Sethe, who was a former slave. Winfrey has also acted in several other films, such as Charlotte's Web (2006), Bee Movie (2007), The Princess and the Frog (2009), and A Wrinkle in Time (2018).
Oprah received an Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1998. In 2011, Oprah 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 has made, becoming the first female African-American to host a television show, inspiring millions of people across the world, discussing significant issues such as equal rights toward genders, racism, poverty, and others. She is seen as an icon, someone who paved the way for others to become successful.View Full Bio