"You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!"
It's one of the most iconic moments in daytime television. Picture it (or just YouTube it): First Oprah gives away 11 cars on her wildly successful talk show. Big deal, right? But then she turns around and surprises the entire audience (all 276 of them) with a new car. Mic drop.
I'll never forget it. I had recently graduated from college in the Carolinas, and had just started working part-time for pennies as a reporter for a regional magazine in the northeast. Not only had I wished I was in that audience (give ME a car!), but it made me truly admire Oprah and her journey even more. She, as a fellow African American woman, had--and still does have--a unique way of doing journalism. Whether they're politicians, priests, or classroom parents, she so naturally puts all of the shine on her subjects, even though she herself is just as intriguing. And I am not the only Oprah obsessed--the show averaged 10-20 million viewers a day, and remains the the highest-rated daytime talk show in American television history.
The Smithsonian has even taken note. #WatchingOprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture is now open (through June 2019) at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The exhibit analyzes the story and impact of Oprah Winfrey as host of a world-famous television talk show, actress, film producer, media mogul, philanthropist,educator and daughter of the civil rights movement. Whew!
Organized into three main sections, "America Shapes Oprah," "The Oprah Winfrey Show, " and "Oprah Shapes America," the exhibit features video and audio clips, original artifacts from Harpo Studios in Chicago, and other items from the personal collection of Oprah Winfrey, all of which reflect Oprah's influence in regards to issues of race, gender, and the mass media.
The cars that Oprah gave away on that unforgettable episode more than two decades ago are likely beaters by now, but the exhibit does feature three bright red car bows used on the show--a symbol of a black woman's dream attained, unwrapped and shared with the world.