Besides her destitute family life, Oprah also had to deal with racial segregation and prejudice. During the era in which she was born – the 1950s – racist attacks were still not uncommon for black Americans, particularly those living in the South. To put things in perspective, Oprah was a baby when Rosa Parks made history by kicking off the Montgomery bus boycott.
And yet despite such challenging times, Hattie Mae nevertheless encouraged Oprah to pursue her talents. But although Oprah’s grandmother – who was a maid – helped her a lot, Hattie Mae didn’t have big dreams for Oprah’s future, and she certainly couldn’t have imagined the success that her granddaughter would ultimately achieve. They were, after all, trapped by a society that denied them the luxury to dream.
“[Hattie Mae] used to say, ‘I hope you get some good white folks that are kind to you,’” Oprah recalled in 2007, while accepting an honorary degree at Howard University. “I regret that she didn’t live past 1963 to see that I did grow up and get some really good white folks – working for me.”