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Oprah among those honored with DuBois Medal

Among the honorees Tuesday night at Harvard were (from left) congressman John Lewis and singer Harry Belafonte.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

An eclectic crowd of entertainers, academics, and influential politicians gathered Tuesday at Sanders Theatre to receive the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal, which Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. called the school’s “highest honor for outstanding contributions to African and African-American culture.”

Recipients this year included the late poet Maya Angelou, singer Harry Belafonte, Oprah Winfrey, TV producer Shonda Rhimes, architect David Adjaye, presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, congressman (and civil rights leader) John Lewis, Steve McQueen, the director of the Oscar-winning movie “12 Years a Slave,” and Hollywood kahuna Harvey Weinstein.

Winfrey accepted the award on behalf of Angelou, who died in May, and recalled the many times she sat at the poet’s kitchen table eating biscuits and listening to Angelou read and recite.


“I’m so proud she called me her daughter-sister-friend,” Winfrey said.

Rhimes, the writer-producer of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” said she was humbled to share the stage with the likes of Lewis, Belafonte, and “Queen Winfrey, as I like to call her.”

Filmmaker Steve McQueen was honored.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Rhimes was also modest about her own significant achievements. (ABC devotes three hours of primetime to her shows on Thursday.)

“I wish it wasn’t so remarkable that I thought television should look like the rest of the world,” said Rhimes.

Meanwhile, the British-born McQueen pledged to continue to make movies that provoke debate.

“The film doesn’t begin until the people are leaving the theater,” he told the crowd. “My commitment as an artist is to not let the dust settle.”

The ceremony also marked the first anniversary of the Hutchins Center, formerly the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard. The Hutchins Center includes the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute; the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute; the Afro-Latin American Research Institute; the Program for the Study of Race & Gender in Science & Medicine; the History Design Studio; the Image of the Black Archive & Library; and the Jazz Research Initiative.