This is tardy, but It will always be timely to write about Maya Angelou, among the most talented and inspirational women of all time, who passed away at her home in Winston Salem, N.C. on May 23, 2014. She was born in St. Louis on April 4, 1928.
Her life as a youngster was very difficult. When she was three and her brother four, her father sent them to live with their grandparents in Stamps, Ark., after he and their mother split up. Their grandparents were quite well-off. Just about wherever she lived, especially Arkansas, she witnessed blatant racism and discrimination so prevalent at that time.
When she was eight, her father, for some unknown reason, returned them to live with their mother in St, Louis. It was there at the age of eight that she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and then witnessed her father kill the boyfriend. After that she was mute for some time. After the murder she and her brother were sent back to live with their grandparents.
At 14 she moved back in with her mother in Oakland, Calif., where she attended the California Labor School during the War. She graduated when she was 17 and gave birth shortly thereafter to a son, Guy Johnson.
Life wasn’t easy after that. She was a fry cook, a prostitute, nightclub dancer and performer. She married a Greek electrician and aspiring musician in 1951. Her mother disapproved of the interracial marriage which ended in 1954. She moved with a friend, South African Freedom fighter Vusumzi Make, and her son, to Cairo, Egypt in 1961. She became a journalist in Egypt and Ghana for several years before returning to New York in 1965.
Although never earning a university degree she became a poet, author,and orator. She was an actor, writer, director, and producer of many plays, movies, and public television programs, spanning 50 years. For awhile she was noted for her calypso dancing and singing.
She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry. She was awarded over 50 medals and awards; Among them the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to her by President Obama in 2010.
“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” in 1971, was the first nonfiction best seller by an African American Woman. She was nominated for a Pulitzer for her poetry collection. “ Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I die.”She recited one of her most famous poems, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at Bill Clinton’s Presidential inauguration in 1993.
I would like to share a bit of that poem with you.
“Across the Wall of the World,
A River sings a beautiful song.
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my heart.
Yet today I call you to my riverside
If you will study war no more. Come
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
This poem is a lesson for everyone. Find the poem on the Internet and read it in its entirety. President Obama issued a statement about Angelou, calling her “a brilliant writer, a fierce friend. and a truly phenomenal woman. Angelou had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer,” he wrote.
Unlike far too many in our society she refused to accept any of her life’s experiences as a reason for failure. Her early struggles in her life would not hold her back. She was raped and endured. She was a single mother, yet triumphed. She apologized for nothing she did in her lifetime. She is a great inspiration and example, not only for impoverished young people, but for us all. Her lesson is so very clear; don’t despair over mistakes, and no matter how bad of a hand you ar dealt, opportunities await you. There is nothing that can hold you back if you want to succeed bad enough and are willing to work hard.
She was a champion for peace, equality, and compassion. She was a giant.
“Peace my brother, peace my sister, peace my soul. Peace,” said Angelou.
Glen McAdoo, a Fallon resident can be contacted at email@example.com