Gayle King on Why Oprah Gave Up Her Magazine Cover for Breonna Taylor

Breonna Taylor Oprah Cover

“We can’t stop until justice is served”

On July 30 — for the first time — Oprah Winfrey stepped aside from the cover of O, The Oprah Magazine to honor Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician shot and killed by Louisville, Kentucky, police in March. Despite national outcry, 150 days later, the three officers involved have not been arrested or charged in her death. In a new interview, Katie Couric chats with Gayle King, Editor at Large of O, The Oprah Magazine, about the iconic cover — and the ongoing demands for justice.

Katie Couric: This is the first cover of O Magazine that doesn’t feature Oprah herself. Why was it important to instead focus on Breonna Taylor and, in a way, Black women who are victims of racial injustice?

Gayle King: We have all been committed to using our platforms to make a difference and raise awareness about social injustice and the abhorrent reality of police brutality against Black Americans. When Deirdre Read, O’s visual research editor, suggested to me and O Mag Editor in Chief Lucy Kaylin that we give the cover to Breonna, we thought it was a great idea. When Lucy brought the idea to Oprah, she immediately said yes.

Oprah speaks candidly in the September issue about the importance of not staying silent and of using whatever megaphone you have to cry for justice.

We’re very proud to have the September issue not only honor Breonna’s life, but the life of every other Black woman whose life has been taken too soon.

One hundred and fifty days have passed since Breonna’s murder. There’s been a national and international outcry. One officer has been fired, but why do you think none of the officers involved have been arrested nor charged?

When Oprah started writing her column for the magazine in early July about the decision to honor Breonna’s memory, I think she hoped by the time the cover was revealed there would be charges. In the issue, Oprah mentions a recent conversation she had with Breonna’s mother and that was what she could not understand: “The fact that no one has been charged. It was so reckless. They did all of this for nothing, and she lost her life.”

Breonna Taylor deserves justice and her family deserves peace and closure.

You’ve also put up 26 billboards across Louisville with the magazine cover demanding justice for Breonna. What is the goal of these billboards and what has the reaction been?

Justice — for Breonna, her family and to put a spotlight on Black women killed by police so we can stop this from happening again.

The response to the cover has been overwhelming positive with so much love and shares from celebs like Viola Davis, Tina Knowles, Reese Witherspoon and many more posting their support. People were also sharing the message that justice has not been served and that actions still need to be taken to hold Breonna’s killers accountable.

Oprah and the O team began discussing how to further amplify Breonna Taylor’s story and the fight for justice in her name. O’s social media editor Joseph Zambrano brought up the idea of the billboard, Oprah loved the idea and the team swiftly moved forward.

There has been a national reckoning about systemic racism over the last three months. In many ways, it’s been a perfect, or imperfect, storm. Covid-19 has revealed huge health inequities; George Floyd’s murder made irrefutable what has been happening for decades if not centuries in this country and there is enormous frustration over the lack of national leadership. How has this period in American history affected you personally?

This is certainly unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetime. I really cannot recall any other time where we were going through these monumental moments all at once. I’ve been so affected personally by the tragedies I’ve been reporting on — these incredible injustices to Black Americans. I still think about the video of George Floyd’s murder and his last moments when he was crying out for his mother. As a mother of a Black son, that really got me. It’s not new — it’s something we’ve dealt with as Black Americans all our lives. But I am hopeful that this time, there will be real change.

What kind of major societal changes do you hope and believe this movement will result in?

Last Friday, after the billboards started going up, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron spoke out about the investigation for the first time in weeks, and so I am hopeful we are heading in the right direction, but we can’t stop until justice is served. We all need hope, but must also remember to use our voices to make change.