By Ginikachukwu Moses
Oprah Winfrey is an African-American media personality, known for her talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. Oprah is a potpourri of many abilities; being a television producer, an actress, an author, and a philanthropist. She has been on the public scene from a tender age and is one of the leading women in the world — a self-made one. She has risen to a state of prominence by breaking records and setting new ones by her own sweat and determination. And what more? She undauntedly represents black women all over the world, setting standards and paces. Let’s walk down her history.
Oprah Winfrey was born Orpah Gail Winfrey. The name “Oprah” is a mispronounced form of Orpah which is a reference to the biblical figure in the book of Ruth. Because it was constantly mispronounced, Orpah adopted the name and it stuck.
Her Story and Her Glory
Oprah was born on January 24, in 1954, at Kosciusko, Mississippi, U.S to a single teenage mother named Venita Lee who was a housemaid. She spent the first six years of her life living in abject poverty with her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae. Her grandmother was instrumental in shaping her into what she became. Oprah acknowledges Hattie’s role in her life when she said “…it was Hattie who had encouraged me to speak in public and gave me a positive sense of myself.”
Oprah surprisingly rose from the status of abject poverty to the list of world billionaires and was the only black woman to have made the list from 2004 to 2006. She was also listed as the first black woman billionaire and that was achieved in 2003. In 2021, she ranked 23rd in the Forbes list of most powerful women.
Oprah’s rise from poverty to a state of wealth and power is a conversation that has been discussed in the past and is still discussed presently, so much that there has been a course taught at the University of Illinois focusing on Winfrey’s business acumen, namely “History 298: Oprah Winfrey, the Tycoon”. Her ability to beat the odds of her family background and rise to being a business mogul is one to be commended and given much attention to.
Oprah is believed to have been the richest African-American of the 20th century. According to the list released by Forbes in 2021 of self made billionaires, Oprah Winfrey ranked 12th on the newcomers and newsmakers list. Her net worth according to Forbes in 2021, is $2.7 Billion.
The Building Process
The popular quote “Rome wasn’t built in a day” played out quite alright in Oprah’s life. She began her orating career at an early age. It was recorded that at age three, Oprah was able to read and recite bible verses thanks to Hattie Mae who had tutored her, personally. Word goes around that she was very active as a child.
Oprah got her first job working in a grocery store when she was in her teens. She won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant at the age of 17. She worked at a local radio station for black people known as WVOL, where she read the news part-time. And at a point, she shuffled being an OAP and being a student. Oprah was the first black female to anchor the news at WLAC-TV in Nashville. She was also the youngest news anchor in the radio station’s history. At 22, she got a job at a radio station known as WJZ, located at Baltimore. There, she co-anchored the 6 o’clock news.
Oprah participated in an oral contest which she won. This win gave her a fully funded scholarship to Tennessee State University, for blacks. She studied communication, but did not deliver her final paper, nor was she able to get the degree. She did however get the degree in 1987, when she was already a successful media personality.
In August 1978, Oprah took up a job to co-host a talk show called “People Are Talking”. She did so well, that she literary dragged the radio station from where it was to where it was only in wild imaginations. The radio station was topping charts. At the end of her career in the radio station, she was earning $220,000 per year.
Reaching for the Tops
Oprah had made a name for herself using what she enjoyed doing best; talking. Words about her efficiency was spreading fast and that landed her a job in ABC to anchor a morning show for half an hour, on January 2, 1984. The show aired on WLS-TV, a TV station owned and operated by ABC in Chicago. The show was to be distributed by a company called King World Productions. This company was a popular one, it had also been a major distributor of the popular American television game show called Wheel of Fortune, which began around January 6, 1975. Within a month of Oprah’s stay in the station, she had successfully taken it from last place to first on the charts of Chicago’s local ratings. In 1985, the show was renamed to The Oprah Winfrey Show. On September 8, 1986, the Oprah Winfrey Show was relaunched and transmitted nationally.
The Oprah Winfrey Show which is also called Oprah, was nationally syndicated in 1986. Oprah realized the contract she had entered into while working for the television station wasn’t what she wanted so she negotiated for ownership rights of her show with King World Productions, started her own production company named Harpo and this was when she started making cool cash. Oprah became a millionaire at age 32. At age 41, Oprah had a net worth of $340million, this gave her Bill Cosby’s seat in the Forbes 400 most richest people in the country list as the only African-American on it.
A Peek at the Peak
Oprah has been able to garner for herself mouth watering assets; here is a list of them:
Presently, she owns a real estate which is her place of residence. Also known as “Promised Land,” the estate is a 42 acres land which she had purchased in 2001 for around fifty million dollars. Reports says the estate is worth ninety million dollars today.
Among others, she owns a 41 acre real estate property at Orcas Island, Washington. Also, she owns a 23 acre Seamair Farm Estate that she purchased in 2016.
Oprah invested $43million in weight watchers in 2015, she owns a 10% stake in it. Currently, her investment is worth $218 million.
According to Forbes, Oprah Winfrey remains the only black female billionaire in history as at January 2022.
Oprah would always be a testament to the fact that black women can like phoenixes, rise from the ashes of everything we were told that we could never be.