History Department
History Department

NMAAHC’s “Oprah Winfrey and American Culture” Exhibit features course syllabus authored by Juliet E. K. Walker

Thu, June 14, 2018
NMAAHC’s “Oprah Winfrey and American Culture” Exhibit features course syllabus authored by Juliet E. K. Walker
Professor Walker with her syllabus, at the NMAAHC’s “Oprah Winfrey and American Culture” exhibit opening

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s new exhibit, “Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture,” features a course syllabus designed by Dr. Juliet E. K. Walker, Professor of History, from a course she taught entitled “Oprah Winfrey, the Tycoon” at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“At the University of Illinois in 2001, Juliet E. K. Walker began teaching the first-known college course devoted to Oprah Winfrey,” reads the placard adjacent to the framed syllabus. “A historian of black business, Walker focused on Winfrey as an entrepreneur and media tycoon and considered the various social, cultural, and economic factors that contributed to her success.”

The exhibit, which opened June 8 and continues through June 2019, uses the story of Winfrey and her 25-year daytime talk show as a lens to explore contemporary American history and culture, especially issues of power, gender and the media, and looks at how America shaped Oprah and how she shaped America. Read the press release, view exhibit highlights, and read Time's coverage of the exhibition.

Read more by Dr. Walker in her chapter "Oprah Winfrey, The Tycoon: Contextualizing the Economics of Race, Class, Gender in Black Business History in Post-Civil Rights America" in Alusine Jalloh and Toyin Falola, eds.,  Black Business and Economic Power (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2002), 484-525.

walker_history_bigIn addition to Professor Walker’s “Oprah Winfrey’s black business” syllabus displayed in the Smithsonian’s NMAAHC, her book, Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier (University Press of Kentucky, 1983) provided the basis for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s "Free Frank McWorter" exhibit, which is included in the new and permanent “Many Voices, One Nation" exhibit, which opened in June 2017.

On Saturday, June 24, 2018, Professor Walker will sign her book, Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier, as part of the Smithsonian's “The Nation We Build Together” program (press release). Walker is a direct descendant of Free Frank McWorter who founded the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois in 1836 and who was able to purchase freedom for many of his family members. New Philadelphia is featured as a case study in the museum’s new exhibition, “Many Voices, One Nation,” a new permanent exhibition opened at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in June 2017. Free Frank launched Dr. Walker's research in African American business history leading to her 1998 prize-winning book The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship.

walker-firstHistory of Black Business garnered numerous awards and accolades, among them:

  • 1999, Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, Honorable Mention
  • 1999, Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) Letitia Woods Brown Prize for
    best Book published by a Black Woman Historian/Best Book Published on African American Women's History
  • 1999, American Association of Publishers Scholarly and Professional Division, Award in Business and Management Category
  • 1999, CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book in African and African American Studies
  • 1999, Black Caucus of the American Library Association 1998 Award for Outstanding Publication
  • 1998, CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book in Management and Labor

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