Oprah Winfrey

Black History Month Spotlight: Legendary Handprints—Oprah Winfrey

One of the best-known media personalities of our time, Oprah Winfrey is a producer, actress, network CEO, and philanthropist, and for 25 years was a daily fixture on television screens across the nation as host of the award-winning program The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Oprah Gail Winfrey was born in rural Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 29, 1954. While studying communications at Tennessee State University she began to work in radio and then television, eventually becoming a local broadcaster in Nashville. In 1976 she moved to Baltimore to co-anchor the local news, and went on to co-host the talk show People Are Talking. She moved to Chicago in 1984, where she became host of AM Chicago, and soon took the show to first place in its market, surpassing ratings expectations just a month after she began. Before long her show was expanded to an hour, put into national syndication, and rebranded as The Oprah Winfrey Show. The ratings juggernaut ran from 1986 to 2011, largely on ABC stations and in more than 100 countries, becoming the highest-rated daytime program in television history.

As an actress, Oprah found success early on in her career. In 1998 she starred in Beloved for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, a film that she also produced. She later voiced Eudora in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog in 2009, and in 2018 starred in The Walt Disney Studios’ film A Wrinkle in Time as the iconic Mrs. Which.

Off-screen, Oprah has been an active philanthropist. In 2007, she founded The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa to provide educational and leadership opportunities for academically gifted girls from impoverished backgrounds, and is the largest single donor to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture with a $21 million donation.

Oprah’s illustrious career was celebrated by The Walt Disney Company in 2017 when she was named a Disney Legend. “Every day—Disney, ABC7 let me be me,” said Oprah, returning the praise during her acceptance speech. “It was an honor and I feel that… being a Legend, more than being a celebrity or being awarded for notoriety, that really a Legend is about the common experience that we all hold and share—and every day on that show I was able to tell our common story.”