Oprah’s mom, Vernita Lee (seated in the above pic), passed away at her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Thanksgiving at the age of 83. Oprah’s family has said services and a burial were already held for Vernita.
TMZ says Oprah’s niece Alisha Hayes was the first to break the news. Vernita did not have an easy life, to say the least. She was born in 1935 in deeply segregated Mississippi. As current politics can tell you, it still isn’t exactly a rosy place for race relations, but it was way worse then. Vernita and Oprah’s dad, Vernon Winfrey, met in 1954 and had Oprah not long after. Hollywood Life reminded me that Oprah’s name is kind of a fluke since Vernita wanted to call her “Orpah” but they got it wrong on her birth certificate. They didn’t really have much of a relationship. Vernita moved to Milwaukee when Oprah was a newborn to work as a maid, leaving the future talk show host to be raised by her strict grandmother. That kinda screwed over Oprah’s relationship with her mom, especially when she eventually went to live with Vernita when she was six.
It was when Oprah was living with her mom when she was molested by a cousin and abused by an uncle. Things were rocky between the two, and at one point Oprah kept calling Maya Angelou her other mother. Things managed to improve between mother and daughter, as Oprah had Vernita on her own show in 1990 for a makeover. Oprah expressed her gratitude to everyone for expressing their condolences today:
Their relationship was brought up other times on the show, including when Oprah revealed she had a half-sister (she had two other siblings who have passed away) her mom gave up for adoption in the 60s that she only found out about in 2010. Vernita was also an inspiring subject of Oprah’s Golden Globes speech earlier this year when she said this:
“So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault, because they — like my mother — had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farmworkers; they are working in factories and they work in restaurants, and they’re in academia and engineering and medicine and science; they’re part of the world of tech and politics and business; they’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”
Vernita, we may not have known much about you, but that speech was what many say was a call to rally to get Oprah – or anyone with half a heart, really – to run in 2020 to hopefully boot you know who out of office. I’d call that a life with one helluva purpose.
Rest in peace, Vernita Lee.