Oprah Talks About 'Legends Ball'

Oprah Winfrey threw an extravagant party last year, honoring African-American women who had overcome the odds to become among the most influential people in America.

Winfrey held her "Legends Ball" to pay tribute to older women like Maya Angelou and Coretta Scott King, who died earlier this year, and invited younger black women like singers Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige to show their forbearers how far women of color had come.

A primetime special about the ball will air tonight on ABC. Winfrey initially said that she wasn't going to make this into a TV special, but actress Cicely Tyson saw the footage and told Winfrey that "the world needs to see this."

The rise of Winfrey -- who was molested as a child and grew up poor in Mississippi -- is forever connected with the journeys of women like Tyson. Tyson's television portrayal of a fictional slave woman in "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" represented the struggle for freedom to Winfrey.

"And I remember the first time I saw her in 'Miss Jane Pittman,'" Winfrey told ABC News' Diane Sawyer. "That movie was life-changing for me and so many other people. I remember that moment where she holds up the baby and she says, "That there be one, every newborn, we look at -- look at him and say, 'Is this the one? Is this the one, Jimmy?' So I was pretty much changed by watching the film."

Earned Extravagance

Winfrey's ball was one of the most talked about, high profile events of last year, and she meant it to be. She gave the honorees diamond earrings as party favors.

"I realized that it was extravagant, but when I look back on it, I still feel like it still wasn't enough," Winfrey said. "It wasn't enough to say how much your life has meant to my life."

The other night, Winfrey said that she received a letter from writer Pearl Cleage, one of the young black women she honored. Cleage tells Winfrey in the letter that she will forever cherish the photo taken of the honorees at her ball.

"'The photograph is my proof,'" Winfrey read from the letter. "'We will not show the photograph to everyone. We will know by then that sometimes their eyes can't see what their minds can't comprehend. But someday, when we are very old women, someone will have heard the story and will come to ask us, 'Is it true? Did it really happen like they say? Did you all come together in the garden, sisters and seers and singers of songs, tellers of truth, and keepers of spirit, wanderers and world changers? Is it true?'"

Healing, Growth and Change

The musical version of "The Color Purple," which Winfrey produced, draws upon that same spirit of hope and victory.

Winfrey said she had received letters from people who had never been to a Broadway show and who said they had come away from the musical feeling uplifted.

"They are saying, 'I've never been to New York.' They're saying, 'I never knew that you could feel so much healing in a play,'" Winfrey said.

Winfrey's own journey has been one of healing, from her days as a troubled child to her somewhat less-refined sense of style in her early days of celebrity.

"If you look back at pictures of me when I first started, I had a stylist then who would say to me, 'Why don't you get real jewelry?' And I would say, 'I don't like real jewelry. I like big things,'" Winfrey said. "And you will see pictures of me with these earrings that are the size of napkins."

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