Oprah told her studio audience of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Monday, January 24, 2011, what she referred to as a big family secret. She decided to share the secret on her show as a way to make sure that the facts of the story were shared correctly and that the family felt comfortable and respected. The family did not want it to become another tabloid spectacle.
Here is a quick snippet of Oprah's big secret.
Oprah's mother is Vernita Lee. Her Father is Vernon Winfrey. Oprah is the only child resulting from this union.
Vernita Lee had other children, half-siblings to Oprah - Patrica and Jeffrey. Patricia died in 2003, and Jeffrey died in 1989.
But there was another child born. A little girl born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 26, 1963. The baby remained in the hospital for a month before bouncing around foster care until the age of 7, when she was finally adopted.
Adoption Search and Reunion:
At the age of twenty Patricia requested contact with her birth mother, but never followed up with the agency. She tried again several years later in 2007, asking for her adoption records. She received her adoption records and while the names were removed, there was still birth dates and other vital information. She learned that she had three siblings, two that were deceased. Her living sister, born in 1954, was raised in Tennessee with her father and was nine-years-old when Patricia was born. A month after receiving the information, she received notice that her birth mother didn't want to see her.
The Oprah Winfrey Adoption Connection:
Patricia, a single mother of two, called her son, Andre upset that her birth mother didn't want to see her. While speaking to him on the phone an interview was being aired on TV. An interview about Oprah Winfrey's mother. In the interview the fact that she had three children, two that were deceased was discussed. Patricia mentioned to Andre how the facts of Vernita Lee's life were matching her adoption record. Andre did a quick Internet search and discovered that Oprah was born in 1954. Patricia was shocked at the possibility that her birth mother was Vernita Lee, Oprah Winfrey's mother.
Patricia, not wanting to go public and hurt Oprah tried three times to contact Vernita, each time being rejected. "Yes I was very hurt, very. But had to let it go."
She and her two children, a daughter named Aquarius, and a son named Andre, kept it a secret for three years, attempting other avenues to contact Patricia's birth family.
Patricia then saw an article about one of Oprah's nieces and a restaurant that she owned in Wisconsin. With documentation in hand, Patricia told her that she was her mother's sister. A week later a DNA test proveed that they are a familial match.
The family wasn't surprised as Patricia holds such a strong resemblance to Pat, Oprah's other sister who passed in 2003. To keep the story from being confused during the show, the sister Oprah's sister that passed away was called "Pat" and the new half-sister was referred to as "Patricia." It's also interesting to note that no one knows who named Patricia. The fact that there are two sisters with the same name is coincidence.
Oprah's assistant, Libby, tells her "You have a sister.":
Oprah calls Vernita and confronts her with this new information. Vernita's response, "Well, yes, I think it's true."
On Thanksgiving Day, Stedman and Oprah meet Patricia and her two children. They are both shocked by the uncanny resemblance in looks and mannerisms between Patricia and Pat.
Oprah shard on her show that she found her new sister remarkable as she is used to people selling her out. But Patricia never once went to the press or tried to sell her story. Oprah stated that even if it turned out not to be true, she was interested in meeting someone with that kind of character.
Vernita Lee Speaks to Oprah and Patricia:
Oprah and her new sister, Patricia, spent a few minutes speaking with Vernita and I felt that this portion of the show was very enlightening. Enlightening to hear a birth mother's perspective and to see how an adoptee feels about her birth story.
Patricia was placed for adoption as Vernita Lee, didn't feel that she was able to care for her and wanted off welfare. Vernita said that it was a terrible thing for her to do what she had done, giving up her daughter. When she told a nurse she wasn't going to keep the baby, the nurse said, "why not she's such a cute little girl."
Patricia became emotional as she had never heard that she was a pretty baby. Vernita shared that she thought about the baby often and returned to the hospital, but Patricia was already gone. This news also meant a lot to Patricia who said that she always felt that her birth mother didn't mean to give her up for adoption.
Oprah shared what she called two epiphanies she had after meeting with Patricia. Number one, that Vernita is still stuck in 1963, the mindset of that era. She is still carrying the shame. Oprah shared that if her mother would release that shame she would be better able to embrace Patricia and the miracle of her coming into their lives.
Her second epiphany is that of her other sister Pat, the sister she knew about and was raised with for four years of her life. Pat contacted the tabloids and sold a story about Oprah having a baby when she was 14-years-old. The baby died in infancy. This put a wedge in their relationship, but now Oprah feels that that secret being made public helped her to release that shame otherwise she would be where her mother is today – holding on to shame. Oprah then shard that she feels that Patricia brought the family freedom when she came into the family.
Moving Towards a New Relationship:
Patricia noted several times during the show that she now feels more complete and whole sense finding her birth family. Her children agree. Patricia's daughter stated, "It's a miracle to know we have a family that looks like us and has the same mannerisms." While Andre noted how he "felt it a blessing to be connected with Oprah."
While upset by Vernita's lack of interest in contact, Patricia shared that upon meeting her birth family, she felt great in knowing that she has nieces and nephews, and "now you [Oprah]." Patricia shared that she always felt that God would reveal to her the identity of her birth mother, even after her several rejections for contact.
Oprah and Patricia agree that they still need to process and sort out this new relationship. Oprah probably has more work to do as Patricia has known about their connection since 2007. Oprah ended the show stating that they will be, "getting to know each other over the next months, days and years to come."