How Sidney Poitier Inspired Young Oprah To Overcome Racism And Follow Through With Her Heart's Aspirations

Date August 15, 2018

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential women in the world and not just women of color, but women in general. She's busted through many barriers in her life to reach the top, which even many men are unable to imagine in their wildest dreams. It's difficult to picture that once Oprah was a little girl full of doubts and insecurities. Luckily, she'd found an inspiration, which guided her through obstacles to become the remarkable woman she is today.

Oprah's true inspiration

Legendary TV host often singles out one legendary actor, which gave her hope as a young black girl. Sidney Poitier was the first black performer to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Lillies on the Field. It was an unbelievable achievement, which changed many minds and mentalities all over the world.


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Oprah was only 10 years old when she witnessed history in the making, and it set the course for the rest of her life. In 2018, Winfrey received Cecil B. de Mille Award at Golden Globes for her lifetime achievements. Of course, she couldn't mention her hero, Sidney Poitier, and even started her speech by recalling that fateful night when his win reshaped her young mind:

In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother's house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: 'The winner is Sidney Poitier.' Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white, and of course his skin was black, and I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people's houses. 

It's amazing to look at Oprah today and imagine her as a little girl, who had no idea one day she would become an inspiration to others, just like Poitier was to her.

Meeting the idol

Luckily for Winfrey, once, she had an opportunity to welcome Sidney Poitier at her talk show and discuss the common racial issues they both had to overcome to become successful. The veteran actor's words resonated with Oprah hard, as he revealed he attributes his inner strength to his parents and upbringing. Poitier explained to the host:

I had had the opportunity through my mother and my dad to have set some kind of foundation as to who I was...I was taught that I had basic rights as a human being, I was taught that I was someone.


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This was a major difference between Oprah and Sidney. People around made her not believe what was truly possible for black people when she was growing up. Luckily, she was fortunate enough to shake off the racial dogma and follow through with her heart's aspirations.


Oprah's experience with racism

In 2018, during an interview with Larry King, Winfrey touched on her personal experience on racism and what she'd always knew everyone thought about her.

Oprah revealed that she'd always felt the doubt and internal discrimination coming from people she was working with:

I think the higher up you go in the chain of capitalism you experience sexism, huge, because the expectations for who you are and what you should be doing as a woman and as a black woman. You're breaking new ground, and so people don't expect you to be sitting at certain board tables, people don't expect you to be able to break down certain barriers.

Larry King / YouTube

And look at her now: her TV program was the highest-rated show in history all throughout its run, she's a successful actress, TV host, and all-around inspirational woman.

We can't help but admire Oprah and we're infinitely happy to see what impact can someone else's achievement make on a fragile young mind as we've now learned from her experience with legendary Sidney Poitier.

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