Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey, one of the nation’s most popular female entertainers, was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 29, 1954, to Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey. The racially segregated town offered few opportunities for African Americans, and the Winfreys migrated north, leaving young Oprah with her grandmother. At age six, Oprah joined her mother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Vernon Winfrey was discharged from the U.S. Army and settled in Nashville, where he worked as a janitor and dishwasher until 1967, when he started a barbershop and grocery store. At age thirteen, Oprah, a troubled teenager, came to live with her father and his wife Velma. She graduated from East High School and entered Tennessee State University.

Active in speech and drama clubs and Miss Black America pageants, Winfrey also worked for WVOL Radio and as a reporter for Channel 5 Television. She left TSU in 1975 with one remaining requirement (a senior project), which she completed ten years later.

Winfrey worked in television markets in Baltimore, Maryland, and Boston, Massachusetts, before taking a position as the host of A.M. Chicago. Despite the notoriously conservative and polarized race relations in Chicago, Winfrey transformed A.M. Chicago into the city’s most popular show. In 1986 the show was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show and was syndicated, soon becoming America’s number-one rated talk show. In 1985 Winfrey played a leading role in the movie The Color Purple and three years later launched the Harpo, Inc., production facility.

Among numerous awards and honors in recognition of her personal achievement and success in the face of adversity, Winfrey has won the NAACP Image Award (1990) and the prestigious Hope Award (1990) for her generosity in time and money to fund scholarships, feed an African village, and promote programs and shelters for victims of domestic violence.

Suggested Reading

Norman King, Everybody Loves Oprah (1987); Robert Waldron, Oprah! (1987)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Oprah Winfrey
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 21, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018