Important figures: Maya Angelou


A woman who has had a huge impact on history and human interest is Maya Angelou, A women whose work is studied across the United States in some of the top Universities, and who’s contribution to the arts was so highly thought of over the last 50 years that, she performed a piece of her spoken word poetry at the Inauguration of The 42nd president of The United States of America Bill Clinton.

Maya Angelou was an American Poet, memoir writer, author and Civil rights activist. She was born on April the 4th 1928 in St Louis Missouri, USA. She is best known for her books such as “I know how why the caged bird sings” published in 1969 and poetry like “Still I Rise” to name a few examples from her vast catalog. I know how the caged bird sings was so monumental in her legacy because she was one the first Black woman who was able to publicize, and also talk freely and openly about her life. Her name from birth was originally Margaret Johnson, she was born in very financially catastrophic times for people in the United States. The Great depression which lasted from 1929 till 1939 turned America upside down with unemployment reaching peak levels of 25% across the country. Maya Angelou’s parents were both employed but the depression affected them both, their marriage ended not too long after her birth. When Maya was 3 years old her father sent her on her own due to financial difficulty, on a train to Alaska to live with their wealthy grandmother who managed to prosper during the great depression. Maya’s Grandmother was involved in a convenience store which was badly required during the depression and she invested her money wisely. Four years later, she was returned without warning to her mother in St. Louis by their father. At the age of 14 she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend named Freeman, Freeman was charged after Maya told her brother who then told their mother what happened. Freeman was found guilty but scandalously only served one day in prison for his horrible crime. The incident was so traumatic for Ms Angelou that she remained mute and refsed to speak for 5 years. At 17 years old she graduated from school and had a son Guy Johnson.

In 1951 Maya married a Greek aspiring musician named Tosh Angelo’s this was an extremely sensitive subject at that time, the idea of an interracial relationship was condemned by both whites and blacks with even Maya’s own mother disapproving of the union. Their marriage was short lived and ended in 1954.

In 1959 Maya Angelou joined the Harlem writer’s guild after moving to New York she was also published for the first time after joining the guild. It was around this time she was heavily involved in her pro Castro and anti-apartheid activism, she met South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make, whom she ended up in a relationship with for a year. After the relationship ended, Maya and her son Guy moved to Accra in Ghana. There she made it possible for her son to go to college; she got a job as a feature editor for The African review and freelanced for The Ghanaian times, also had her own radio broadcasting show on Radio Ghana. While living in Ghana she became extremely close friends with activist Malcolm X, who convinced her to return to the U.S in 1965 to help him create a civil rights organisation known as “The Organisation of Afro-American unity; not long after this Malcolm X was gunned down. Maya moved to Hawaii to live with her brother distraught about the death of Malcolm X. In 1968 Dr Martin Luther King JR asked Maya Angelou to lead a march for civil rights which she agreed then later postponed to do. That same year Martin Luther King was also assassinated. One year later in 1969 she wrote her critically acclaimed and probably most known memoir “I know why the caged bird sings”. This memoir was monumental in cementing Ms Angelou’s legacy as one of the most important writers of her time.

In 1993 Maya Angelou recited one of her most famous poems “On the Pulse of Morning” at the Inauguration of President Bill Clinton highlighting all she has accomplished by becoming the first poet to recite at an inauguration since Robert frost spoke at John F Kennedy’s inauguration.

Image source: Wikipedia

Maya Angelou passed away in 2014 from natural causes. Tributes to Mrs Angelou were passed on by Bill Clinton and then President Barrack Obama who Maya was a keen proponent of for his presidency in 2008. At her funeral her son divulged that even in Mayas poor health she managed to release 4 books for publication in the last decade of her life. After Maya Angelou's death “I know why the caged bird sings” went to number 1 on the amazon best sellers list.