The Oprah Show's Greatest Lessons
The plan backfired on them when the panel came in with their own agenda. After promoting violence and making several offensive comments, the white supremacists walked off the stage.
After the show, Oprah says she felt unsettled and had a strong epiphany. "In the end, we gave a bunch of racists an hour-long platform to spread their message of hate and evil. That taping changed the way I thought about TV and how it should be used," she says. "I made a conscious decision to never again use this platform to put that kind of energy out into the world."
Today, two of the white supremacists who were on the show that day in 1988 have been invited back to The Oprah Show. This time, they have a much different message. See what they have to say today.
When Dr. Phil asked Jo Ann if her daughter would want her to hurt like this, Jo Ann said that her daughter would actually be angry at her for her behavior. "So it wouldn't be a betrayal," Dr. Phil told her. "Maybe the betrayal is focusing on the day of her death, rather than celebrating the event of her life. She lived for 18 vibrant and wonderful years, and you focus on the day she died." Jo Ann responded by saying, "I never thought of it that way."
The conversation was just about to wrap up when Jo Ann began to cry, and Dr. Phil and Oprah asked her what she was thinking. "I thought after I'd made this goal, that now I could go home. I'm sorry. I was going to go home and take my life," she told them.
Dr. Phil says he knew she was not being melodramatic. "This woman was deadly, deadly serious. She had been impacted by the show to choose a different course—to have a reason to live—and that changed me in that moment. I left there thinking, 'You know what? You need to really, really pay attention every minute you're here, because you're talking about people's lives here. And sometimes it's life or death."
Get an update on Jo Ann and her family today
Oprah Show viewer Dianne, who was dealing with the death of her mother, says hearing Jo Ann's story helped her deal with her own grief. "I saw your pain and your darkness, and I thought about how brave you were to come in that raw spot and be willing to have a light shine on it," she tells Jo Ann.
Eight years after watching this show, Oprah Show viewer Lynne was attacked by a career criminal. She says Sanford's advice flashed through her mind, and she decided she had to fight back. "I wouldn't go with him. And I said to him at that moment, 'If you're going to kill me, kill me here and kill me now, because I'm not going with you.' I fought him, and I survived."
Lynne says he ran off and was later captured by police, who found out that he had kidnapped and murdered a woman the week before.
"When my children used to walk in the room, when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up," she told Oprah in 2000. "You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you're caring for them. It's not. When they see you, they see the critical face. But if you let your face speak what's in your heart...because when they walked in the room, I was glad to see them. It's just as small as that, you see."
Toni's comment has become one of The Oprah Show's most profound lessons and has touched the hearts of many viewers—including Gennece, who says that hearing Toni's lesson changed her. "My daughter ended up dying of cancer," she says. "And the last two years [of her life], every time she would come home—whether it was from chemo or a party or the grocery store—I would always say, 'Niecy's home! Niecy's home!' And she would get so excited. ... That made a difference in my life. And now when children are in my space, it's authentic that my eyes light up, because my heart lights up."
After all these years, Toni has one more lesson to offer Oprah Show viewers: Everyone needs to have a place that is all theirs. "It's just a place where it's you," she says. "It can be creative, it can be a computer, it can be anything. It's your sacred place and you own it."
A mother in Australia was watching Brenda's story on The Oprah Show, and she says it changed everything for her. "I just felt complete compassion for her because it was a wake-up call for me because I was going down that path," Tracey says. "I was trying to live the life I had before [my daughter] Grace [was born]. Completely putting her last and making her fit in my life rather than me fitting in with hers."
After hearing Brenda's story, Tracey decided to slow down and be more present in her life. One particular day, Tracey had just put her daughter down for a nap, when she heard her crying. She says she would have normally closed the door and ignored it, but because of Brenda's story, she decided to go in.
"There I saw her with the curtain cord, and she'd managed to tangle it around her neck and her body. Thank God I went in. She could have strangled herself. It could have choked her," she says. "Watching Brenda's story saved her life, absolutely."
"Early childhood experience where there's a wound has to be repaired in a relationship in adulthood with somebody similar to your parents," he told Oprah at the time. He went on to say that you can get over your past, but only if you work on it.
Oprah says that show changed her relationship with Stedman and that she wouldn't even be with him today if she had not had Dr. Hendrix on the show. "I stopped trying to get [Stedman] to be anything other than who he was, because I realized we both were bringing things from our childhood into the relationship to be healed," Oprah says today. "Over the years, that's been really, really key to our relationship building."
When Tracey told her to "make the little steps to fill your mind so that you can fight back," Rudine looked at her and said, "But how do you do it?"
Rudine lost her battle with anorexia in 1996, but to this day, Oprah says her question is still one of the most powerful things she's ever heard. "When I heard her say, 'But how? How do you do it?'—that was it for me. I realized that we can't just tell people what to do, but we have to offer the how," Oprah says. "That moment with Rudine forever changed the way I approached every show."
The grandson of a former slave, George started working full time when he was just 8 years old and never even learned the alphabet. By the time his classmates threw him a surprise 100th birthday party, George was able to read his own cards for the first time.
"Watching Mr. Dawson learn to read has been one of the greatest experiences of my life," Carl said in 1998. "Mr. Dawson was determined he was going to learn how to read, and that determination filled one of the most outstanding quests for knowledge that I've ever seen. It has been a fantastic miracle."
In 2000, George became a best-selling author when he co-wrote his inspiring life story Life Is So Good. He passed away in 2001 at the age of 103.
See how his legacy lives on today!