Oprah Named Civil Rights Champion

07/08/2005 at 05:10 PM EDT

Oprah Named Civil Rights Champion
Oprah Winfrey
Albert Ferreira/Reuters/Landov
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey will be the latest luminary to receive the National Civil Rights Museum's prestigious Freedom Award, it was announced Thursday.

The honor, which in the past has been bestowed on Dr. Martin Luther King's widow, Coretta Scott King, South African president Nelson Mandela and former U.S. presidents Clinton and Carter, comes in the wake of a controversial incident in which Winfrey was barred from Hermes in Paris, a move those in the media mogul's camp say was racially motivated.

When the staff refused Winfrey entrance to the store, it was "one of the most humiliating moments of her life," her pal Gayle King told Entertainment Tonight. Later, Hermes issued a statement saying the company "regrets not having been able to accommodate Ms. Winfrey." But the apology came too late. The star had already called the president of the company's U.S. subsidiary to say she won't shop there again.

Winfrey also announced that she'll dedicate a show next season to "Oprah's 'Crash' moment," which refers to the recent film that deals with shades of racism.

Winfrey, who has spoken for years on her hit daytime show about race, will receive the Freedom Award this fall at a ceremony in Memphis. Museum Director Beverly Robertson described Winfrey as "a great humanitarian."

"She has provided resources and money to build schools for at least 50,000 children in South Africa," Robertson said. "That is phenomenal. She doesn't have to do that."

In May, Oprah also held a Legends Ball in which she honored 25 of her personal African-American heroines, among them civil rights activists Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks. The lavish three-day tribute was a "divine vision" Oprah told PEOPLE. "It was extra. It defined the word 'extraordinary' – historic."

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