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History Professor featured as one of ten 2005 stories to read again on UT home page

Professor Juliet E.K. Walker makes Black Business Her Business

Posted: January 5, 2006

When Oprah Winfrey became America's first black female billionaire, Forbes magazine took note. The major news networks took note. And Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker, professor in the Department of History at The University of Texas at Austin, took note as well.

As the country's foremost expert on black business history, Walker has made black business her business. And recently, she's made Oprah Winfrey her business, too.

While the media may be interested in Winfrey's wardrobe, weight loss or famous car giveaways, Walker is interested in her role as an entrepreneur and what her success says about race and gender in business today. She's exploring this in "Oprah Winfrey: An American Entrepreneur," a book she is writing for Harvard Business School Press.

For Walker, Winfrey is a complicated figure. She is a potent personality and a cultural phenomenon as well as a remarkably accomplished businessperson. Her success in marketing the Oprah brand in television, film and publishing transcends race.

"The primary way I relate Oprah to black business is that she is a black person who is involved in business who has never really depended on a black consumer base," Walker says. "Yet her business activities reflect certain aspects of the expansion of black business activity in the late 20th century, her joint ventures being one."

Winfrey's joint ventures with Walt Disney, Oxygen Media and Hearst Magazines are typical of what Walker considers the most recent wave in the rise of black corporate America. . . .

Photo by Marsha Miller, banner graphic by Leslie Ernest

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