Oprah lauds Atlanta civil rights legends


“Oprah Winfrey Presents: Legends That Paved the Way,” 9-10:30 p.m. Sunday, OWN

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with a better Rolodex than Oprah Winfrey.

A decade ago, she hosted a lavish Legends Ball weekend featuring her favorite African-American heroines, both young and old, a total of 67 women ranging from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and Maya Angelou to Halle Berry and Angela Bassett.

The media maven last month decided to replicate that weekend but focus on living civil rights legends from entertainment (Sidney Poitier, Berry Gordy) to grass-roots activists (Jesse Jackson, Marian Wright Edelman, Myrlie Evers-Williams). Winfrey hosted two days of events in Santa Barbara, Calif., with highlights airing Sunday on her OWN network at 9 p.m. over 90 minutes.

Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, was heavily represented. Tyler Perry, who produces several shows on her network, was there, along with King’s son Martin Luther King III and daughter Bernice King. Honorees who made a difference during that era included former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, MLK’s close friend the Rev. C.T. Vivian, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Juanita Jones Abernathy (widow of Ralph David Abernathy) and former state lawmaker Julian Bond.

Sheri Salata, co-president of OWN Network, said Winfrey wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Selma march and her Oscar-nominated film on the subject, “Selma,” for which she was a producer. “We went to town,” she said. “I have to say this is one of the most satisfying months since I became one of the presidents of OWN.”

Over the weekend of events, Winfrey hosted a screening of her film, which was shot largely in Atlanta. She also hosted a gala dinner lauding the honorees on Saturday. On Sunday, singer BeBe Winans led an emotional gospel brunch.

“Some of them had not been acknowledged in this way,” said Andrea Wishom, executive producer for the special. “This is also perhaps the last time all of them will be together. It was really moving to see John Lewis in the lobby of the Bacara (Resort & Spa). They all got the royal treatment.”

During the gala, the cast of “Selma” read a special poem written by Pearl Cleage thanking the legends. R&B group the O’Jays performed.