The Oprah Winfrey Early Life Story and The Limits of Your Past

oprah winfrey early life story

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Have you heard the saying, “Life can give you lemons?”.  Well, there’s truth to that.

Sometimes, there’s challenging moments (at times even immoral or unjust) and you may need to deal with them.  In these times where your hurt, someone has done something wrong to you, or you’re pondering the thoughts in your mind about whether your past has permanently put a glass ceiling on your future, I want you to remember the Oprah Winfrey Early Life story.

It’s one of the most inspirational stories of a woman who had many odds stacked against her, yet transcended financial limitation, battles with her self-image, overcame racial divides, and conquered many other great obstacles to become one of the most influential women in the world.  If you’ve never heard the Oprah Winfrey Early life story, or you’ve never pondered how her story can be inspiration for you, then this article will be a great treat for you.

oprah winfrey early life storyThe Oprah Winfrey Early Life Story | A Brief Bio

Oprah Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954 to unmarried parents, Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey.  She was supposed to be named Orpah after the Bible character in Ruth, but due to spelling challenges, she was named Oprah instead. Her mom was a housemaid and her dad was in the Armed Forces.

Other men claimed to be Oprah’s dad, but her mom identified Vernon as the biological father.  According to Oprah, her dad had no idea he had a child until he recieved a call requesting diapers.

Her parents hadn’t quite “planned” for Oprah’s arrival, and they struggled to divide responsibility between them and provide for her.

Oprah and her mother lived with her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee who is said to be strict, Bible believing, and “unafraid to hit her with a stick if she misbehaved”.

Although her grandmother was also very poor, Oprah speaks highly of the values and life lessons she learned from her.  Unfortunately, as a result of their extreme poverty, Oprah often had no clothes, and instead, wore potato sacks for clothing.

Oprah and Reading

Added onto the positive influence of her grandmother, Oprah also credits books as her “pass to personal freedom”.  She said she learned to read at the age of 3, and thru books was able to see a broader view of the world that existed beyond the extreme poverty she experienced on a day-to-day basis.

When Oprah was six, her mom moved from Hattie Mae, and gave birth to her half-sister, Patricia.  Having already struggled with raising one child, their struggle intensified, so Oprah’s mom sent her to Nashville, Tenessee to live with her dad, Vernon.

Oprah Moves with Her Dad

After Oprah had gone to live with her dad, her mom gave birth to another daughter who she gave up for adoption.  Vernita was extremely poor, but despite the circumstances, Oprah was sent back to Milwaukee to live with her mom again.  Shortly after Oprah returned, her mom gave birth to a son named Jeffrey who she gave up for adoption.

Oprah kept many nuances of their living situation under wraps until she became a media mogul.  Since, she’s revealed that during her time in Milwaukee, she had been molested by a cousin, uncle, and a family friend.  The repeated abuse she experienced in her childhood began while she was 9 years old.

Regarding her pain, Oprah said, “The struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me,”.

Oprah Runs Away

At 13, Oprah ran away from her abusive home and became pregnant at 14.  She felt shame, defeat, and discouragement.  In her words, she said, “I was so ashamed, I hid the pregnancy until my swollen ankles and belly gave me away. The baby died in the hospital weeks later.”

Despite the tough circumstances, Oprah still maintained high grades in school, and was transferred to a school in a rich neighborhood in Milwaukee.  Shortly after switching schools, she began stealing from her mom (potentially in effort to “fit in”).  The stealing led Oprah and her mom to get into recurring arguments.  As a result of the friction in the house in Milwaukee, her mom sent her away again to live with her dad in Tennessee.

While with her dad, Oprah was given rules and accountability.  She began participating in school contests and winning lots of awards.

In high school, Oprah began exploring broadcasting as a career option, and took a job at WVOL, a local black radio station.  She started working at the radio station reading the news part time in her Senior year in high school, and she worked at the station part time during college.  Her skills won her a scholarship to Tennessee State University where she graduated with her degree in Communications.

She Goes on to Break Many Records

After graduating college, Oprah went on from radio into television, breaking many records including:

  • First black female news anchor for WLAC-TV
  • Youngest news anchor for WLAC-TV
  • Being nominated as Best Supporting Actress for The Color Purple
  • Being nominated for Best Picture for Selma
  • Winning several Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show and Outstanding Talk Show Host
  • Winning the NAACP Outstanding News, Talk, or Information
  • and so many more…

Despite her tumultuos upbringing, Oprah has been able to surpass what many people could with a polished childhood.  Her show and network is one of the most influential media networks in the world, and her net worth ranges in the area of $2.9 billion.

The Oprah Winfrey Early Life Story | Tough Obstacles She Went Thru

Oprah experienced:

  • Extreme poverty
  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Molestation
  • Betrayal – Even stating that family members sold her shameful secrets to the media
  • Criticism in the public eye
  • and more…

How She Handled Betrayal and Self-Doubt

In her childhood, Oprah was led to believe the abuse and molestation was her fault.  She grew up with damaged relationships and self-image because of her abuse and impoverished situation.

Being that Oprah has lived the majority of her life in the public eye, she’s dealt with lots of betrayal and self-doubt publicly.  In a post on her blog, she writes about family members and previous employees who betray her for money.

In one instance, a family member sold secrets of her past to the tabloids in exchange for $19,000.  In other instances, previous employees wanted “an extra buck”, and betrayed her to achieve their goals.

As a result of her betrayal and self-doubt, Oprah says, “What I learned from that first betrayal is that when you have nothing to be ashamed of, when you know who you are and what you stand for, you stand in wisdom. Insight. Strength and protection. You stand in peace.”

Lessons and Takeaways for you

  • Your past does not dictate your future.
  • If Oprah could go from extreme poverty to $3 Billion+ in net worth, you can transform your situation also
  • Oprah got the training and made the connections she needed to to succeed, and so should you
  • Even in her most impoverished and abusive situations, Oprah was demonstrating a strong work ethic, and accordingly, she was transferred schools and given a University scholarship.
  • Work ethic pays off
  • Work hard and strategically even when you feel that no one is looking
  • Some situations may seem shameful, so you ensnare yourself to cover your secrets, but Oprah said, vulnerability is a strength, and being transparent about her life has been liberating
  • Reading can open your mind to new worlds and help you build skills you wouldn’t otherwise have
  • Every project on her path has not been a raving success, but she tries again
  • Be persistent

The Oprah Winfrey Early Life Story | A Playlist

This video includes documentaries on Oprah along with her own videos disclosing information about her early life.  You can scroll thru the videos and choose which ones are relevant to you:

Final Words on The Oprah Winfrey Early Life Story

The goal of this article was to show you the story of an Overcomer. Oprah went from extreme poverty to a level of wealth few have or will ever experience.  Her story shows that your past is simply a line on your resume for your future, and it can build to a positive outcome and make you stronger.

Her past has resonated with so many people and allowed others to be free from the burden and shame associated with tragedy.  While you may experience more challenges to transcend a hard past, your past does not have to be a limiting obstacle.

If you have questions or concerns about this, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section.  I’d love to help you out!

If you would like to start or scale your business, check out my free e-course. It’s a framework to grow a business: from idea to enterprise. Check out my free e-course here.

Now, it’s Your Turn…

What are your thoughts on the early life of Oprah Winfrey?  What portions of her story resonated with you?  Which additional takeaways did you get from reading and hearing the early life story of Oprah Winfrey? Leave your comments below.

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6 thoughts on “The Oprah Winfrey Early Life Story and The Limits of Your Past”

  1. I have always been fascinated by Oprah and the challenges she has overcome to be where she is today. I did know a bit about her early background and abuse but not about the betrayal of family members.

    We do limit ourselves in what we can achieve even when we don’t have the obstacles that she faced.

    When I look at my lack of self-confidence in myself, it is nothing compared to Oprah’s challenges. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Mary Ann! Oprah has accomplished what many couldn’t dream of.  I think her story of transcending her early childhood obstacles is very inspirational, and I’m glad you thought so too!

  2. Oprah sure has had an interesting life. It must be wonderful to be able to help so many people and do what you love every day. I didn’t know any of this about how she started out. It must have been hard growing up like that. But that’s what makes us stronger. Having an easy upbringing isn’t going to give you the same drive to succeed like Oprah has. And she made it! That’s a great motivator. 

    1. Hi Anna! Oprah’s story is definitely the story of an overcomer.  She has drive, work ethic, and tenacity, and she’s used it to achieve alot. I’m glad you enjoyed her story!

  3. Hi  Tiffany, that was really inspirational. I really love everything about this lady Opera Winfrey from her talk show to her financial success. She is really an inspiration to all black women.. Her life story gives us a chance to understand that we really be who ever we want to be, it’s just a matter of of determination, hardworking and selflessness. I wish our young girls growing up can really see her as a role model

    1. Hi Bibian! I agree so much that she’s achieved so much and I think her story is a great example to show young girls. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

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